I know that Elton John’s song “Daniel” was not written about Daniel Nava, but fans at Fenway will be singing his praises for a long time after his weekend debut in Boston. The unassuming 27 year old outfielder announced his presence with authority when he he hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw in a Major League game, off Phillies starter Joe Blanton. That got the 35,000 in the Fens on their feet, and the countless others who know Daniel Nava cheering, standing and maybe even sobbing with joy.
What Nava accomplished that day reaffirmed my love for baseball. You’ve heard stories about petulant superstars, ugly contract negotiations, and steroid use. All anti-Nava. He is the kid next door. The little guy who’d mow your lawn and say please and thank you when you offered him some lemonade. His accomplishments brought tears to the eyes of even the most grizzled baseball veterans. After the game, Red Sox skipper, Terry Francona was asked about the feats of Daniel. Tito, choked up about the saga, admitted “I’m about to start crying. I guess I’m getting old.” Realizing the magnitude of his debut, Nava himself said “I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”
And why not? The story of the 70 pound high school kid who developed into a well-muscled professional athlete is really too good to be true. His college coach at the University of Santa Clara, Mark O’Brien could not be more proud. “I’m sure you could do a movie on him, man.” The improbable rise from nowhere to the Bigs. I said on the air the other day, that no one would believe it. Too fake to be real. It is real. There have been others who have defied the odds. The 2002 movie “The Rookie” chronicled the exploits of Jim Morris, who went from youth coach to Major League pitcher with Tampa Bay at age 35. This story is as good, if not better. Daniel’s father Don, a man who has trained the likes of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice told me that he always believed in his son. He said if he didn’t have the ability, he would have encouraged a different career path. He referred to his son as “Rudy, with ability”.
We, in the PawSox family had already had an incredible moment this season, when Darnell McDonald homered and singled off the Green Monster to power Boston to a win on the day he was promoted while we were in Rochester. We were huddled around Torey Lovullo’s laptop and erupted when D-Mac’s “wall-ball” won the game. It was awesome. He was with us that morning, and later that night, “The Nation” had a new hero. Same with Daniel Nava. He departed Indianapolis when Jeremy Hermida got hurt and Josh Reddick was optioned to Pawtucket. He found himself in leftfield at Fenway. Yeah, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice’s left field. Lovullo has been in pro ball for more than half his life. He has seen it all, yet Nava’s debut struck a chord with the skipper. “Of all the special moments I have seen, this ranks first or second.” Like Nava’s dad, Torey has faith in the young man. “It was a no-brainer for us. ‘G’ (hitting instructor, Gerald Perry, a former National League All Star) told me two weeks into the season that Nava would be a Major Leaguer due to his ability to hit. I paid closer attention and realized he was right.” Lovullo was almost at a loss for words. “Daniel deserves so much credit. It’s a special moment for him and so many people.”
From my perspective, I was sitting alone in the radio booth at McCoy when he hit the “Granny”. I lost it. Screaming repeatedly “Nava, Nava, Nava!!!” As I’ve always said, you take absolutely no credit for their success, but you sure as heck revel in it. He is one of us. Sir Elton has probably never heard of Daniel Nava, but his lyrics definitely apply. “Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky.”