October 13, 2013

On Baseball: Nava's unlikely story never gets old

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - During a media interview at Fenway Park, Daniel Nava was speaking about his college days -- the days of being a team manager and not a player -- when another microphone and TV camera joined the conversation.

Daniel Nava
click image to enlarge

Daniel Nava's patient approach at the plate has made him a perfect fit for a Red Sox lineup that saw more pitches than any team in the majors this season.

The Associated Press

It was ESPN.

This Daniel Nava story might make it to the national stage. It is a tale that never gets old: The team manager who washed uniforms just to be around the game eventually becomes a major leaguer.

But Nava keeps writing new chapters.

Not even invited to major league spring training camp in 2012, Nava was in camp this past spring but on the bubble for a roster spot.

He made it and surprised everyone, batting .303 with a .385 on-base percentage, both second-best on the Red Sox to David Ortiz.

Nava has also been a much-improved fielder, providing John Farrell flexibility with his play in left and right field, as well as first base.

Then there are those at-bats. It seems Nava does not want to leave the batter's box. In terms of seeing pitches per plate appearance, Nava's 4.11 average is second on the team to Mike Napoli's 4.54 and 13th among American League batters.

The approach began when he was team manager for the University of Santa Clara (a team that included Jonny Gomes' older brother, Joey). Besides washing the players' uniforms, Nava videotaped games.

He studied the players, especially the pitchers.

"I started to notice that pitchers don't always hit their spots as many time as they want," Nava said.

Pitchers made mistakes and batters enjoyed more success when hitting those mistakes.

When Nava finally got a chance to play, first at a junior college and then back at Santa Clara, he remembered.

"I focus in on the zone and go from there," Nava said.

"For me, it doesn't have to be a fastball. It can be anything in a certain area where I am comfortable hitting.

"If (the pitch is) not in that spot, take it. For me that's what works. It allows me to relax and focus on a certain area. If he throws it there, I'm swinging. If not, I'm taking."

It eventually turns into a game of taking pitches and fouling off others. Meanwhile, the pitch count rises.

"It wasn't an intentional (strategy)," Nava said. "It has just developed into what it is now."

Sort of like Nava himself. He has just developed into what he is now.

Besides his average, Nava also has 12 home runs, including two clutch homers at Fenway. Both were three-run shots, to win the home opener and then the emotional first home game after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Nava appreciates the drama of the big hits, but don't call him a basher.

"I'm not looking to hit a home run. That's not my game," Nava said. "If I hit one, I run around the bases as excited and as confused as you all probably are."

Exciting and confusing. The Daniel Nava story. He grinds his way through college and is ignored by the pros. So he plays in an independent league before the Red Sox sign him and send him to the lower levels of the minor leagues.

Nava worked his way up and made his major league debut in 2010, but was forgotten in 2011 and the spring of 2012.

He climbed his way back, and now, it seems, he is here to stay.

"The journey that started as a team manager and to be where I am, I give a lot of thanks to God," Nava said. "People can say it's a lot of luck. That's their opinion. But that's a lot of luck.

"You have to constantly keep working. Now being on a first-place team and contributing "

And that's not even the best part. Nava and his wife, Rachel, welcomed their first child this year, a daughter named Faith.

"When I look back on the year," Nava said, "there is a lot to be really grateful for."

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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