Pop quiz time! Name the major league baseball player who was cut from his college team, an independent league team and his current pro team — and now is second in homers on that very same team?
Answer: Daniel Nava
Okay, did you get it right? You might not know the name Daniel Nava, but as you may have gleaned from that question, the same could be said of many of his coaches. Nava is an outfielder/first baseman with the Boston Red Sox. After last night’s home run, he has three on the season and is hitting .467/.571/1.133.
It wasn’t always this easy for Nava, but you have to give him credit. If there’s one thing you can’t say of him, it’s that he gives up too easily, or gives up at all. For fun, let’s compare Daniel Nava to someone who does give up, like… hmm… me!
1) After getting cut by his college team…
Nava: stayed on to wash the uniforms. He worked hard enough that he got another try-out, made the team and became one of their best players.
Kory: went to his dorm room and called his mom. Some reports say he was crying at the time but those reports are unverified.
2) After not getting drafted…
Nava: hooked on with the Chico Outlaws of the independent Northern League.
Kory: called his mom? This comparison is breaking down.
Before making the Outlaws, Nava tried out and didn’t make it. Then he tried again, got signed and won the league MVP. The Red Sox then tried to sign him, but Nava was so valuable to the Outlaws that they refused to give him up unless the Red Sox gave them a dollar. The Red Sox said that they didn’t have a crisp one, but would the Outlaws accept a crumpled dollar plus a few pinches of pocket lint? After much consultation, the Outlaws agreed.
Nava began his career in the Red Sox system in 2008 and hit right away. He didn’t post an OPS below .900 until he reached Triple-A in 2010 and even then it was a still-healthy .830. Right about that time the Red Sox were going through one of their now annual injury-fests where the team decides, for fun, that all its best players should run into each other or, if they prefer, large stationary objects. Jacoby Ellsbury was out, along with a list of players too lengthy to mention here lest I exceed the word-count I don’t have. It was under this cloud that Nava made his major league debut against the Phillies on FOX’s game of the week. His first at-bat came against Joe Blanton with the bases loaded. On the first pitch, Nava did this. (For those of you who can’t click that link, Nava homered. Shhh! Don’t ruin it for the link-clickers.) It wasn’t just a home run, it wasn’t just a first pitch home run — it was a first pitch seen in the major leagues grand slam. Like Nava himself, those are pretty rare.
Two years later Daniel Nava was so important to the Red Sox organization that he had been designated for assignment, taken off the 40-man roster and, most recently, not invited to Spring Training. By now you realize all that just meant Nava was going to be better than ever. This season, while everyone paying attention to the Red Sox focused on Jackie Bradley, Jr. (including yours truly), Nava has snuck in and taken the spotlight from the promising rookie with his unexpected power, good batting eye, and decent defense.
Nava isn’t a star in the making. He’s 30 years old this season, so it’s unlikely he’s any kind of long term answer in Boston or anywhere else for that matter. Still, when he’s healthy (he’s had a couple wrist injuries that have curtailed his production), he’s proven that he can get on base, pop the ball a bit and catch things hit near him. He’s even taught himself how to play first base. Daniel Nava may not be an All-Star, but he’s a hard-working, productive, major league player, something that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible. (And now that I’ve said he’s not an All-Star watch him make the All Star team.)