Nava focused on doing job in first Series start
Red Sox outfielder to replace Gomes in left for Game 3 vs. Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- The Web, 24-hour media and social media in every sense, the sporting sense included, are all about what's happening now -- and if not now, why not? Those were the questions when Red Sox manager John Farrell didn't start Daniel Nava in left field in Game 1 of the World Series.
After Farrell again went with Jonny Gomes in Game 2, the move was taken apart sabermetrically and emotionally before and after Gomes' seventh-inning throw that Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't stop was a key moment as the Cards won, 4-2, to tie the Series.
"Obviously, I'm excited," said Nava, who entered as a pinch-hitter in Game 1, doubled and scored a run. "You want to get out there and help the team win. We had a tough game the last game. I'm excited. I've heard a lot about the stadium and the fans that go along with playing in St. Louis. To experience that almost reminds me of playing back at home with a good fan base. I'm excited to experience that within the context of the World Series."
Having his World Series starting debut delayed didn't leave Nava dismayed. Now is as good a time as any for a reminder that Nava has benefited from waiting patiently before.
Nava, 30, is well-known for his winding route to the Majors -- junior college, Santa Clara University, a year of independent ball and a long Minor League apprenticeship that was interrupted by promotions to the Majors for 60 games in 2010 and 88 games last year. But baseball for Nava nearly stopped before it began.
After a productive time at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., Nava didn't have a scholarship and spent a year at Santa Clara as a student equipment manager. In many ways, the story would make sense if he were a manager in name only but he spent his time hitting in the batting cage and otherwise preparing for his career as a big leaguer.
But like he has done in uniform, Nava simply did the job assigned as best he could.
"I didn't do any baseball," Nava recalled. "I was copying faxes and washing uniforms. I would help set up the field. I would help take the field down in terms of whatever we set up. But my baseball was pretty much nonexistent. That wasn't my job."
"My job wasn't to go out there and play. If they needed me to stand at first and catch balls, I'd do that. But swinging and hitting, I never did any of that. There's a lot that's happened to get to this point, but when I was there I didn't think I was playing again. I would go play basketball after practice and procrastinate my homework as much as I could."
To return to the game that would become his job, Nava left Santa Clara for College of San Mateo, excelled there and returned to Santa Clara under a full scholarship, spent a year at the school as an unpaid assistant coach, then finally got an opportunity with the Chico (Calif.) Outlaws in 2007. It was then the Red Sox discovered him.
It took until 2010 to debut in the Majors, when he blasted a grand slam off Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton on the first pitch he saw. It wasn't until this year that Nava has made an impact over a full season.
A switch-hitter, Nava grew into a dependable option in left field, with some work in right when Shane Victorino was injured. He was especially effective from the left side against right-handed pitchers. He finished eighth in the American League in batting at .303 and was sixth in batting average against righties at .322. His .385 on-base percentage led Major League switch-hitters, and five of his 12 homers this season gave the Red Sox the lead. He and Gomes became a platoon in left.
But beginning with the AL Championship Series, Gomes has received the nod more regularly, even against right-handers, in what Ferrell described as a gut move. But with Gomes 3-for-23, and with Nava considered the better defender, Ferrell announced Friday that he's going with Nava on Saturday night.
Nava has responded competitively, going 3-for-8 with the double, one walk and four strikeouts in nine plate appearances.
"I've tried to stay in the game at least mentally with a couple of at-bats -- take myself through an at-bat as if I was doing that," Nava said. "You keep the routine the same. You've just got to be ready at any point. That's the same thing any other guy, whether it be Jonny or myself, will tell you."
It's clear Nava has a special ability to concentrate solely on his job, whether it's starting or coming off the bench, or washing uniforms. As fascinating as his story is no matter how many times he tells it, he's not letting the temptation to think of how far he's come crowd out the need to concentrate for his World Series assignment.
"A little bit, but I've said before you've got to stay in the moment," Nava said. "You won't stay sharp. The reminiscing part will happen after the year. 'Wow it's been a great year for the team, and for myself as far as not knowing if I was going to make the team.' That'll happen at the end of the season and hopefully that'll be with a World Series title. But now, not too much. We've got a job tomorrow."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.