Commentary

'Daniel Nava: The Sequel' a hit too

Two years after Hollywood debut, Red Sox outfielder again has improbable impact

Updated: May 26, 2012, 2:50 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Disney version of Daniel Nava's life culminated, gloriously and improbably, with his first swing in the major leagues. No way to improve on that scene, the undersized kid from California who once washed uniforms as the manager of his college team hitting a grand slam for anyone whose dreams defied boundaries.

Roll the credits, send everybody home happy, and don't muck up the storybook ending by bothering with what comes next.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Nava
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDaniel Nava says being designated for assignment after his big splash in 2010 gave him new perspective on his career.

Except, of course, that option wasn't available to Daniel Nava. He was real, not digitized, which meant there would be a day after, and a day after that, along with an expiration date on magic dust.

It was precisely a year ago that Nava, buried back in the minor leagues, was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox, which is just legalese for telling somebody they've exhausted their usefulness.

And maybe that's why this latest incarnation of Daniel Nava in a Red Sox uniform is even more compelling than the first. This is the bloodied Nava, the bent but not broken Nava, who through circumstances no one could have foreseen has become not only wanted again by the Red Sox, but indispensable, at least until he is put back in a box.

"Honestly, I wasn't discouraged by it," Nava said the other day, reflecting on being designated. "I was like, 'Well, I've got nothing to lose now. If I make a team great; if I don't, well, it's been a good run.

"But it wasn't anything like, 'Great, this is the end of the line.' It was an opportunity for me to play with nothing over my head because I had nothing to lose.

"I know there are a lot of other ways to look at it, but this is the way it made sense for me to look at it."

Nava, who elicited no interest from 29 other big-league clubs when he was there for the taking last year, has been one of Boston's most productive hitters since he was added to the roster on May 10. With Red Sox outfielders falling by the wayside seemingly on a daily basis -- there are seven currently on the disabled list -- Nava has played every game in left field since. He comes into Saturday night's game against Tampa Bay batting .326, with an off-the-charts on-base percentage of .475 while slugging .600.

"He's been great," manager Bobby Valentine said. "Can you imagine if we'd had to play musical chairs with him?"

Nava was so far down the Red Sox depth chart this season that he wasn't even invited to spring training. Valentine barely knew his name. He'd had 187 more plate appearances with the Red Sox in 2010 after hitting a grand slam off Philadelphia's Joe Blanton on the first pitch he'd seen in the big leagues, and never sent another ball over the fence.

Last season, he had been bypassed by other up-and-comers Josh Reddick, Che-Hsuan Lin and Ryan Kalish on the pecking order, and while he played on a daily basis in Triple-A Pawtucket and did passably well, batting .268 with 10 home runs, the Red Sox gave no thought to adding him as a September callup.

But Nava, though at an age, 29, when the likelihood of getting another shot in the big leagues was dimming, said he gained a much-needed perspective from dealing with that prospect.

"I made it in 2010, it was awesome," he said. "I wanted to get back so bad, I was pressing, trying to do too much. I think I put baseball on the pedestal of being the most important thing. I put all this pressure on myself.

"It took me to get designated and struggle to think about what's No. 1 in my life. When I had a bad day, I took it back to the apartment, and I was down. It used to be if I played a good game, so be it; if I had a rough game, so be it, I'm just blessed to be able to play. But those things got out of whack."

Nava said he decided to fall back on his faith.

"That helped me to come back," he said. "Let's have fun and leave it all on the field. If nothing happens and I don't make it back up, so be it, it was a great run and I had so much fun. And if I do get back up, have fun and don't press.

"Obviously some days were easier than others, but I thank God for the opportunity. I never thought I'd get another opportunity."

But Nava is back, and so far he is thriving. He understands the tenuousness of his position. Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross and Carl Crawford all could be back by July. But there is a lot of baseball to be played between now and then, and Nava, who in his first day in the big leagues already experienced a better day than most people ever will, just wants to make the most of those days that come after.

"If I go down tomorrow, so be it," he said. "If I stay the rest of the season, so be it. It took those struggles, I think, for me to get back to, this is the type of player I am, this is what I do, and be content with that. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, at least I go down as the player I know I'm most comfortable being.

"However long they want me here, I won't say no to that."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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