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Nava completes long journey to majors

06.12.10 at 4:32 pm ET
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(Update: Daniel Nava became the fourth player in major league history to hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat, hitting the home run in the second inning of the Red Sox’ Saturday afternoon game against the Phillies against Joe Blanton. Click here for more.)

When the Red Sox announced that they would option outfielder Josh Reddick, a well-known prospect who has some experience at the big-league level, back down to Triple-A Pawtucket Saturday, many Sox followers were left scratching their heads as to who would be called up to replace Reddick on the 25-man roster. Jonathan Van Every perhaps? No, he was traded to the Pirates on May 31. Was there going to be another trade? That didn’€™t appear imminent.

Finally, reports came out that the Sox were going to call up 27-year-old outfielder Daniel Nava, and one more question arose: Daniel Nava, who?

Nava has been facing those kinds of doubts for literally his entire baseball career. As a 4-foot-8, 70-pound freshman in high school, Nava struggled to get any playing time because of his size.

‘€œI really was 70 pounds. I couldn’€™t go on the rides at the theme parks, I was so small,’€ Nava said. ‘€œThat kid could barely swing a 32-inch bat so I don’€™t think he was thinking about the big leagues or anything like that.’€

He eventually grew to 5-foot-5 by his senior year, earning an All-League honorable mention that season, but no colleges came calling and he tried to walk on at Santa Clara University. But because of his still small frame, Nava was told instead to consider a move in coaching and therefore he moved to a spot as team manager, where he did laundry, helped with equipment, basically did anything he could to stay around the team. It appeared his playing days were numbered.

Then, a seemingly miraculous growth spurt caused him again to shift course, and he moved to the junior college ranks at College of San Mateo after his family could no longer afford the expenses of a private four-year school.

‘€œUnfortunately, we just couldn’€™t afford it,’€ Nava said. ‘€œIt was just getting too expensive for us. We had no other options.’€

However, he flourished in JuCo, earning both All-Conference and Junior College All-American accolades in his two seasons. Nava returned to Santa Clara, this time on scholarship, and surprised his former coaches by leading the West Coast Conference in batting average and OBP with statistics of .395 and .494 in each respective category.

Still, there were doubters as no major-league clubs came calling in the following draft, and none were willing to sign him as a free agent. He was even cut by the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League before they eventually called him back after absent players left holes in the roster. Again, Nava made the most of his opportunity by hitting .371 and was named the Best Indepefndent League Prospect by Baseball America after just the one season.

That assuredly would garner some interest from the big leagues, but at first, things weren’€™t looking good again for Nava. The Blue Jays had previously left after seeing Nava in a tryout without offering him a contract before the accolades began to roll in. Finally, the Red Sox and Cubs expressed interest in the low-risk, potentially high-reward player after reading the piece in Baseball America, and Nava eventually took his first shot at minor-league baseball in the Red Sox system.

So far in his two-plus seasons down on the farm, the switch-hitting Nava has produced some eye-popping numbers. He hit .341 with 10 home runs and 59 RBI in 85 games at Single-A Lancaster in 2008 and continued his impressive hitting by accruing an average of .364 in 32 games in Double-A Portland last season after a mid-season call up.

But the knocks kept coming. After entering the Sox system at the prime age of 25, many chalked Nava’€™s impressive hitting up to his age; he was just an older player in the prime of his career dominating younger, less-experienced pitching. Basbeball America didn’€™t list him as a top prospect in the Sox system, and the popular website Soxprospects.com listed him as a ‘€œpost-prospect.’€

Nava continued his ascent of the Sox system by playing at Triple-A Pawtucket, and in yet another chance to silence his critics, he has again performed admirably. Before his Saturday call-up, he led the PawSox in every major offensive category: average (.294), home runs (8), RBI (38), hits (58) and runs (28).

Then, when he finally got the notice that he would be starting in left field Saturday afternoon for the Boston Red Sox, Nava didn’€™t know immediately what to say or do. ‘€œIt’€™s obviously a dream come true. I was telling my friends, ‘€˜Sorry guys if I don’€™t know what to say because I’€™m kind of speechless.’€™ The whole thing happened so fast. I’€™m trying to learn what to do, where to go.’€

Ironically, this will not be his first time on a big-league ballfield. He participated in the Futures of Fenway game last season for Portland and actually won a contest to throw out the first pitch at an Oakland game when he was nine.

‘€œI actually didn’€™t want to do it when I was younger. I was so scared,’€ Nava said. ‘€œI honestly think I was more nervous then. Playing ball and doing all that stuff, I don’€™t think I’€™m as nervous now. It was a good experience.’€

Now when he takes the field as an actual major leaguer, he finally has the chance to prove he can hit with the big boys of the majors, but at this point, Nava isn’€™t worried about just proving anything about himself. His goals are more team-oriented at this big moment in his career.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be a great thrill,’€ Nava said. ‘€œI’€™m not going to say it’€™s not. I’€™m just trying to do one thing at a time and not look too much into the future about what’€™s going to happen. Just here to help the guys win. Keeping it nice and simple.’€

When Nava finally takes the field wearing a major-league uniform, his miraculous ascent, from a tiny high-school freshman to college team manager to independent league dropout to Red Sox minor leaguer to major league ballplayer, will finally be complete.

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