July 2, 2010

On Baseball: The long shot gives best shot

Daniel Nava is getting his who-would-have-thought-it chance with the Red Sox and, so far, is doing just fine.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

Daniel Nava, Miguel Olivo
click image to enlarge

Daniel Nava once washed uniforms for his college team. Once failed to make it in the independent leagues. And today is playing pretty regularly for the Boston Red Sox, sporting a .291 batting average. Go figure. If it’s all a dream, he’s hoping not to wake up anytime soon.

The Associated Press

Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, Adrian Beltre, Jason Varitek
click image to enlarge

Daniel Nava wasted no time making an impression, hitting a grand slam for the Red Sox on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues.

The Associated Press

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.

Surprised?

"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.

(Continued on page 2)

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