When a Hollywood movie director says “Cut!” it usually means he wants a scene repeated — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
When a baseball manager or minor league farm director has said “Cut!” to Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava, it’s always been a bad thing – because it’s meant he’s been told “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out of the stadium.”
But now, at age 27 and in his first season of Triple-A ball, Nava arguably is the best minor league position player nobody’s ever heard of – even though, over the 2008 and 2009 seasons encompassing 147 games between Lancaster, Salem and Portland, he hit a combined .345 with a .961 OPS, 49 doubles, 15 home runs and 95 RBI.
Moreover, through his first 21 games with Pawtucket, Nava was hitting .319 with three home runs, 16 RBI and a .916 OPS.
“I think one word comes to mind when you’re talking about Daniel and that’s perseverance,” said PawSox manager Torey Lovullo. “The idea that he was under-sized, stuck with it, had a love for baseball and had a passion for staying with it … there isn’t a greater story in our clubhouse because he’s had the toughest road to get here.
“I’ve heard him say he was under five-feet and 100 pounds in high school (Nava is a native of Redwood City, Calif.) and got cut from several baseball teams. Now, he’s square in the middle of a lineup for Boston’s Triple-A club. It’s a fairly minor miracle considering what he’s gone through.”
For example, Nava was cut:
* When he tried out as a walk-on for Santa Clara University in 2001
* When he tried out for the Chico Outlaws in the independent Golden Baseball League.
* When he tried out for a spot on a minor league team in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization.
“I think I’ve been cut three, four or five times in the past five or six years,” said Nava. “Overall, it’s been a humbling experience.”
This humbling: After failing to make Santa Clara, he served as the Broncos’ team manager for two years – which meant he did things like wash uniforms, set up the field and break it down when the team was home, make photocopies for the coaching staff, chart pitches and film hitters and pitchers.
“When we were on the road, I did all the laundry for everyone after a game and, sometimes, I wouldn’t get back to our hotel until maybe 2, 3 or 4 in the morning,” explained Nava. “It varied depending on how far I had to go.”
After two years, Nava transferred to a JUCO – the College of San Mateo – out of necessity.
“The reason I left was I couldn’t afford it,” said Nava.
Nava hit .430 and .384 in his two seasons (2004 and 2005) with the Bulldogs and with OBPs in excess of .500.
“I played well but I thought just because I did well at a junior college it didn’t mean anything,” said Nava.
Eventually, Nava decided to return to Santa Clara – but with one caveat.
“When I came back, I had to get a scholarship or else I couldn’t come back,” he said without the slightest bit of embarrassment. “And my situation was unique in that, after my second year of junior college, I only had one year of athletic eligibility left. Wherever I was going to go, the school only was going to be able to take me for one year. I needed a school to give me close to a full ride for a full year.
“There aren’t a lot of schools that want to take a chance. Pepperdine and Oregon State were interested in me but those doors shut and it turned out to be Santa Clara. I went back on a baseball scholarship.”
That alone, as Lovullo alluded to, would qualify as “a fairly minor miracle.”
But the proverbial bubble burst again when he was cut by Chico.
“Of course there were times when I was frustrated,” said Nava. “I know the type of player I am. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit bombs. What kept me going was that I knew I could play.”
Nava didn’t play ball for a year. Then, out of nowhere, he received a call from Chico a day before tryouts commenced for the 2007 season.
Not only did he win a starting role in left field, but he wound up being voted the league’s MVP after he finished second in batting average (.371) and slugging percentage (.652).
“After the season ended, Baseball American ran an article where it listed me in the top 10 independent ball prospects,” said Nava. “Supposedly, the Cubs and Red Sox read it and wanted me to come in for a personal tryout. Then, I got a call from our hitting coach, John Macalutas, who said ‘Never mind. The Red Sox just purchased your contract.’
“I thought it was a joke.”
No wonder, because he heard the message on his answering machine as opposed to in person.
“Eventually, I talked to John and he said ‘Navs, I’m not messing around with you. I’m telling you the truth,’” said Nava. “It was the day before the (2007) World Series started and I was rooting for the Rockies (who, ironically, were swept by the Red Sox) because they were the underdog.
“Then, I went nuts and started running around the room.”
Despite the gaudy stats he posted for the Outlaws, Nava had a sense of why the Red Sox offered him a minor league contract.
“I’ve always been the type of player who had to do the little things like backing up bases or trying to drop down a bunt because I wasn’t the second coming of the worst player you could think of,” Nava said with a chuckle. “When I play, I try to back up bases. If I’m struggling in one area I try to make sure I can pick it up in another area.
“With the path I’ve taken, a lot of things have been out of my control so I try to do the best I can to control the things that are under my control, like the little things. If I can do that, at least I know I’ve done my part and then I leave everything else up to the guys who make decisions.”
The “guy,” he referred to, in this case, comprise the Red Sox’ minor league brass.
“What I’ve always said about Daniel is he looks like he’s taking batting practice while he’s playing in a game,” said Lovullo. “It’s a very unique spot because when you take batting practice you operate in this very compact, loose zone. In a game, you try not to speed things up. You try as easy as you can to hit the ball as hard as you can.
“You’re trying to slow it down. He does a very good job of slowing everything down to where he almost looks like he does while he’s taking batting practice.”
But, at the risk of stating the obvious, Nava is the last person in the solar system to take anything for granted.
“I think along the way I’ve always taken it one step at a time because that’s the only way I could take it because so many doors have been closed to me,” he said. “Now that I’m here, I’m super grateful. But, honestly, I know I have a lot of work to do. I’m not content with what I’ve done so far.
“There always is a ton of work to do. Obviously, my goal is to get (to the major leagues). But before I get there, I know I have stuff to work on just to put myself in that position. Still, I could tell you a lot of stories where I’ve been like (Nava made a ‘You’ve-got-to-be-kidding’ expression with his face)’.”