April 30, 2013

Best dollar Boston has ever spent

By Tom Caron

BOSTON — Daniel Nava has been one of the greatest investments in the history of the Boston Red Sox.

Daniel Nava
click image to enlarge

David Goldman

TUESDAY'S GAME

WHO: Red Sox (Lester 4-0) at Toronto Blue Jays (Morrow 0-2)

WHEN: 7:07 p.m.

TELEVISION: NESN

On Jan. 17, 2008, the Red Sox purchased Nava's contract from the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League in California. He paid immediate dividends, winning the California League batting title, hitting .341 for Single-A Lancaster.

Today, Nava, a former Portland Sea Dog, finishes a remarkable April with a .310 batting average, four homers and 16 RBI. He wrapped up the homestand with a terrific diving catch in right field for the final out of a four-game sweep of the Houston Astros.

The cost of obtaining this middle-of-the-order switch hitter? Exactly $1. That's what the Sox gave Chico to obtain Nava.

Talk about paying dividends.

But it hasn't been easy. Even after leading all Sox farmhands with a .352 average in 2009, there were many who doubted whether Nava would ever be a big leaguer. 

He spent two years as the equipment manager at Santa Clara University just to stay around the program.

Finally given a chance to play, he led the West Coast Conference in batting average and on-base percentage as a senior. He played 54 games in the outfield and never made an error.

On June 12, 2011, he finally stepped up to the plate as a major leaguer. He didn't wait long to make his mark -- he hit a grand slam on the first pitch thrown to him. Nava went on to play in 60 games that season, but hit just .176 over his final 30 games of the season. 

He never did get the call in 2011. He spent the entire year with Pawtucket, where he never sulked. 

He kept working, playing the game he loves. He wasn't invited to the team's major league camp the following spring, but reported to Fort Myers anyway. He would arrive at the team's complex in the afternoon with the other minor leaguers, starting his day after the team's high-paid superstars headed home.

He got another chance in May when the Sox were dealing with injuries. Only Cody Ross played more games in the outfield last season than Nava. Then, this year, he finally made the roster at the start of the season. He has never looked back, and never looked better in the Boston uniform.

On April 20, he was the star of one of the most emotional regular-season games in the storied history of the team. Some three hours after a pregame ceremony that honored police officers from Boston and Watertown just hours after an exhaustive manhunt that locked down the region, Nava hit a two-out, three-run homer in the eighth to give the Red Sox a win.

He admitted he got more texts that night than he had after any game since his big-league debut. Humble as ever, he said "I was just happy to be a part of it."

He's become a big part of Boton's best April ever. They have spent more days in first place to start the season than any team in franchise history. Nava has shown power from both sides of the plate, and played in all but four games this season.  

"He's believed in himself more now that he's gotten more at-bats at the big league level," said Manager John Farrell. "He's picked out counts where he's looked to drive the ball with a little more authority, which has been the case. It speaks a lot about what he's done personally and the work he's put in. I don't even think twice about putting his name in the lineup. He's a very good player."

Notice the manager said he's a very good player. Not just a good story. It's easy to tell the story of the best dollar the Red Sox ever spent. But it's more important to talk about a 30-year-old who has become one of the best players on the team.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

 

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