Having faced adversity throughout his life, Daniel Nava stayed resilient and is having a breakout year with the Boston Red Sox. The following op/ed first appeared on CLNSRadio.com on June 12, 2013. Read more about Nava in the Fall 2010 Santa Clara Magazine.
The word “all-star” and the name Daniel Nava didn’t appear to be synonymous with each other when the season began. In fact, it didn’t seem certain that Nava would even have a job with the Red Sox after Boston signed outfielders Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino and then traded for Mike Carp. Perhaps the word “adversity” and the name Daniel Nava would be more synonymous. After all, Nava has dealt with affliction his entire baseball life—it even pushed him out of the game. But when most would have quit, Nava’s steadfast perseverance and determination allowed him to rise from irrelevance to being one of the most valuable players for the Boston Red Sox.
Daniel Nava’s crooked path to the majors seems nothing short of a Hollywood movie script. An undersized high school senior, Nava didn’t receive any interest from college baseball programs looking to bulk up their team. Instead, he attended Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, Calif, and participated in a walk-on tryout in hopes of making the team. Despite his effort, Nava’s attempt to join Santa Clara’s squad failed. However, albeit sounding like some sort of geeky consolation prize, he was named Santa Clara’s equipment manager. But after two years of washing uniforms and raking infield dirt, tuition became too expensive and Nava was forced to leave.
He ended up attending junior college at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, Calif. While in attendance, Nava again tried out for the baseball program and was good enough to make the team. Finally given the opportunity to play, Nava didn’t disappoint and even became a junior college All-American. Then a senior, Nava’s former school, Santa Clara University, caught wind of his success at San Mateo and offered him a full scholarship. In his only season with Santa Clara, Nava played 53 games, batted .395/.476/.530, collected 79 hits, and was awarded first team All-WCC.
Despite proving his worth on the diamond, Nava went undrafted upon finishing college. As a result, he signed with the Chico Outlaws, who were part of the Golden Baseball League. While with the Outlaws, Nava continued to be a key asset on the field. In his first and only season with Chico in 2007, Nava batted .371/.475/.625 and was named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America. He finally received some reparations for his skills when the Red Sox bought him from Chico for one dollar. To put it into perspective, Nava was about as valuable to Chico as a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
Between 2008 and 2009, Nava played in three levels of the Red Sox farm system. Low A Lancaster was Nava’s first stop. The then-25 year old played in 85 games and continued to put up big on-base numbers, hitting .341/.424/.523. In the following season, Nava only played 29 games at high A Salem before he was called up to double A Portland. With the Sea Dogs, Nava continued to play at a high level. In 32 games, he batted .364/.479/.568, with 43 hits, 10 doubles, 4 homers, and 23 RBIs. After his lame duck season with Portland, Nava was summoned to join the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010 and then made the final leap to Boston after just 77 games at the triple A level.
After his roller coaster ride to the majors, Nava’s MLB debut could not have gone any differently. With the bases loaded, he stepped to the plate and, on the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer, promptly unloaded a grand slam into the Red Sox bullpen. Nava joined the very exclusive club of players to hit a grand slam on their first MLB at bat, which includes Bill Duggleby, Jeremy Hermida, and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Furthermore, only Nava and Kouzmanoff hit their grand slam on the first pitch.
From 2010 until 2012, Nava bounced between triple A Pawtucket and Boston, even being designated for assignment and clearing waivers along the way. Thus, the 2013 season did not seem like it was going to be the year that Nava would finally get a chance to prove himself. The Red Sox gave both Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino lucrative multiyear deals in the offseason—logic indicated neither would be riding the bench for the money they received. Yet again, the odds were stacked against Nava.
But just like before, Nava prevailed. Now 30 years old, he began the season as a platoon player in left field with Jonny Gomes, but has since forced his way into the everyday lineup. So far this season, Nava has collected 42 RBIs, which is good for third on the Red Sox behind David Ortiz (48) and Mike Napoli (42). Nava also has the second highest batting average (.300) and on-base percentage (.396) among qualified Red Sox hitters. Being among the best on a good team usually translates to being one of the best in the league—Nava is a by-product of that thinking. When stacked up against MLB outfielders, Nava’s numbers speak volumes about his play. While his average falls just short of the top 10 MLB outfielders, his on-base percentage ranks third behind Shin-Soo Choo and Dexter Fowler. Additionally, Nava’s 42 RBIs tie him with Carlos Beltran for sixth among MLB outfielders.
In summation, the Daniel Nava story really is starting to repeat itself—in a good way. There’s an obstacle and Nava overcomes it. There’s an opportunity and Nava doesn’t let it slip away. It is rather remarkable to think that five short years ago, perhaps the most wisely spent dollar in the history of the Red Sox was used to bring aboard a player whose accolades speak for themselves. A high average hitter and an on-base machine at every level, Nava’s minor league numbers suggest that this season isn’t luck or a fluke—Nava has alway been this good. With that in mind, his 2013 season shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s certainly a season the Red Sox will take.