When you follow baseball, and sports in general, as closely as most of us do, it can be easy to forget it’s nothing more than entertainment. Just like most forms of entertainment, the best parts are found in the stories. Typically, those stories include individual games, individual seasons or specific playoff runs. Oftentimes, however, we overlook the stories of the players, which can be much more interesting than individual games. The Red Sox just wrapped up their chapter of Daniel Nava’s story, one that was so compelling it was impossible for any of us to ignore.
The story of Nava is the ultimate underdog story. It’s such a damn good story that it would be annoyingly corny in a work of fiction. We would think the author of the story was trying too hard to be cute. Nava was not able to make his college baseball team, and instead took a job as the Santa Clara equipment manager. Later, for financial reasons, he would transfer to junior college where he returned to the game. Eventually, he played well enough to get recognized by his original school, who gave him a full baseball scholarship. After thriving on Santa Clara’s roster and performing like one of the best players in his conference, Nava still went undrafted. Instead of giving up on the game, he went on to play independent league ball, and once again thrived.
It was at this point that Nava’s perseverance paid off and the Red Sox noticed him, famously paying a single dollar for his services. He would work his way up through the minors, playing too well at each level to really give up on. Finally, in 2010, he gave Boston no choice. He made his major-league debut on June 12 of that year, and once again the story was almost too good to be true.
That was just the kind of player Nava has always been. He would struggle later in that year and was eventually designated for assignment, and it appeared that he’d be done forever. Instead, he came back in 2012 and turned into the player we all know and love today. He showed off his famous plate discipline, and hit just enough to latch on to the 25-man roster. The following season, he would be one of the most underrated contributors on the 2013 championship team. While remaining that underrated — mostly due to his lack of playing time in the postseason — seems unfair, it’s kind of a perfect bit of symbolism for Nava’s career.
While his story is the thing that we will always remember (for good reason) it’s important to note that he was one of the better hitters in the game for a three-year stretch. That 2013 season was far and away his best year, when he hit .303/.385/.445 with a 128 wRC+. That final number finished tied for 13th among all MLB outfielders with Justin Upton and Carlos Gomez. Pretty decent company. He went on a really great three-year stretch from 2012-2014, finishing that span with 113 wRC+. More amazingly, Nava finished with the tenth best OBP among outfielders in that three-year span. Sure, he fell off in a big way this season, but he was more than a good player for that three year stretch that included a World Series win.
With that being said, when people bring up the name Daniel Nava ten years from now, it’s not those numbers most of us are going to remember. Most of us will remember that grand slam on the first major-league pitch he’d ever seen. Most of us will remember his go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth in the team’s first home game following the Marathon bombing.
Most of us will remember how genuinely happy he appeared to be whenever he was shown on camera, especially in moments like this.
Most of us will remember how much he acted like a little kid, bringing us back to the days we played Little League. Most of us will remember his obsession with Erin Andrews, when he left her a ticket for every game he played.
In the end, Daniel Nava’s Red Sox career has represented everything that sports is supposed to be, and everything we forget it is when we get older. He was the ultimate underdog, and the ultimate reminder that hard work and perseverance truly can make anything possible. He was the easiest player to root for in my time watching baseball, and it’s not particularly close. Soon, we’ll go back to obsessing over the box scores and numbers, forgetting about some of the truly great stories. Nava’s was too good to ignore, though, and we were all lucky to witness it in real time. For now, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on his time in Boston.
Good luck, Nahver. The entire city of Boston is grateful for your time here.