BOSTON – During batting practice earlier this week, coach Ron Johnson stood in left field and hit balls against the wall so outfielder Daniel Nava could get used to the bounces.
But really, do you ever get used to playing the Green Monster at Fenway Park?
“It’s not something where you can sit back and feel you have it under control,” Nava said. “One day you can get crazy bounces here, and the next day crazy bounces there. It keeps you on your toes.”
That is Nava’s major league experience in a nutshell: He’s staying on his toes, ready for anything.
By now, all New England baseball fans know the Daniel Nava story. Portland Sea Dogs followers learned it last year, when Nava brought his underdog act to Hadlock Field.
Nava, 27, is the player no one wanted — originally cut from his college team, not drafted, even shunned in the independent leagues. And when the Red Sox did sign Nava in 2008, he seemed destined to toil in the minors.
Here is what we wrote in this space last August:
Nava, 26, is a long shot to ever play at Fenway Park …
But here is Nava, having played 15 straight games for the Boston Red Sox before finally getting a day off Wednesday. He’s batting .291 and should be back in the lineup tonight.
“We wouldn’t have called him up if we didn’t think he could contribute,” said Boston General Manager Theo Epstein. “The bigger surprise, if you want to call it that, is the unusual background, having been undrafted, released from an independent team, his rapid rise through the farm system.”
But if you asked Epstein this past spring about Nava contributing to the big-league club, he would have had to admit doubt.
Nava never has been a prospect. Despite batting .339 in Class A last year, then .364 in 32 games with the Sea Dogs, Nava wasn’t invited to the annual Red Sox rookie camp in January, designed for players who are close to making it to the major leagues.
Look in the Red Sox media guide. Up front with the Boston regulars are photos and lengthy biographies on outfield prospects Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish and Che-Husan Lin.
In the back, listed with the other minor leaguers is the bio (and no picture) of Daniel Nava, switch hitter from Los Altos, Calif.
Boston’s outfield depth diminished quickly with rib injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida, and Mike Cameron’s hernia. Darnell McDonald and Reddick were summoned from Pawtucket. Reddick, however, was ineffective (.192).
So the Red Sox took a chance on Nava, who was batting .294 in Pawtucket.
Nava did not ease into the major league waters. He performed a cannonball off the high dive. I mean, how else do you explain hitting a grand slam on the first pitch you see at Fenway Park?
That was June 12. By now, Nava’s underdog story has been told and retold.
Nava is a celebrity. It was reported that the night of his grand slam, several fans at a Boston restaurant recognized him as he tried to eat dinner with his parents.
Nava was asked about it as he stood in front of his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse. He smiled.
“It wasn’t like it was a lot of people — maybe four or five,” Nava said. “But it was cool.”
But Nava is trying to explain that the cool part was not the recognition, it was being a big leaguer.
“To have the opportunity is really the best part,” Nava said. “It’s been a unique road to get here. That obviously is something that’s cool.
“But I’m trying to now, that’s in the past I’ve got a job to do right now.”
The tales of Nava washing college players’ uniforms as the team manager make for great contrast to his present state as a big leaguer. But Nava cannot dwell on that.
“It is maybe something, when the season is over, I’ll look back and say ‘Wow, I’m pretty blessed to have the opportunity.’ But for the time being, that is something I need to put in the past and move on to what I have in front of me,” Nava said.
“I’m just learning a lot, trying to learn from the guys who have been up here awhile, how they handle themselves.
“It’s a long season. You try and stay as even keel as possible. Little things make a big difference in the long haul — not getting too high, not getting too low.”
As he was speaking, David Ortiz walked by and slapped him on the shoulder.
“Papi,” Nava calls out.
Ortiz, who was batting .143 in April, can teach Nava about highs and lows.
And of course, Nava can draw on his own experiences. He did not quit when others seemed to give up on him. And he’s not going to create some sort of artificial swagger now that he’s in the bigs.
“I haven’t been told how long I’ll be here,” he said. “If the job is for me to play every day, so be it. If it’s for me to sit and play every once in awhile, so be it.
“I’m just trying to come to the field ready to play, and play hard. That’s basically it. That’s how I’ve got to look at things.”
Along with the .291 average (16 for 55), Nava has seven doubles and 11 RBI.
His numbers are open to analysis. It seems that Nava has slowed with only two hits in his last four games.
But Nava’s performance also seems connected to where he hits in the lineup. When batting in the back end of the order, Nava is hitting .382 (13 for 34).
But with Boston’s many injuries, Nava has been moved up in the order. When he’s hitting first or second, Nava is batting .143 (3 for 21).
“I don’t think it (makes a difference),” Nava said about his spot in the order. “Obviously when at the top of the lineup, you’re trying to get on base so the guys behind you can drive you in.”
Maybe Nava tries too hard when he bats atop the order. He understands the significance of playing in the majors.
“One thing I really picked up from these guys is how bad everybody wants to win. Everyone wants to win bad,” Nava said. “It’s not about your performance as an individual. It’s more about your performance as it pertains to the team.
“In the minors you want to do well to move up and make it to this point. Now that I’ve been fortunate to get here, it’s a different mindset.”
The mindset is to win and Nava is helping Boston do that. His past makes for a good story, but he knows entertaining anecdotes won’t keep him in the majors.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: