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Daniel Nava | The Big Question

Daniel Nava | The Big Question
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Daniel Nava
Photo/Art by J Merick / Getty Images
On June 12, 2010, Daniel Nava broke into the major leagues by hitting the first pitch he saw at Fenway Park over the right-field fence and into the Red Sox bullpen for a grand-slam home run–only the second time anyone had done that in the history of the game. Undersized and not recruited out of high school, not drafted for pro ball after college: Nava’s journey to Boston involved an almost unprecedented amount of perseverance. We talked with him last fall during the final week of the season.

“The night before I came to Boston, I was playing for Pawtucket [the AAA Red Sox team] in Indianapolis. My manager, Torey Lovullo, called me over in the clubhouse after the game and said, ‘Hey, where are your parents?’ That was the first time my parents had seen me play in two years, so he knew they were in town.

“I said, ‘They’re about to fly back out to California.’

“He said something like, ‘We need you to let them know that they have to change their flight to go to Boston, because you’re going to Boston.’

“The next day Tito [Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager] called me into his office and said, ‘You’re going to be in left field. We don’t expect you to go five for five. We have a good line-up. Just go in there and do your job. Don’t feel like you have to do more than that.’ And then he said, ‘Make sure you go out there and get some balls off the wall.’

“I don’t know when the rain started, but it was too wet to take batting practice on the field. We hit in the cages under the stands before the game. So the first time I got into a Major League batter’s box was the first time I got up to bat.

“I was trying not to think too much about my first at-bat at Fenway Park, playing against a World Series contender [the Philadelphia Phillies]. My dad had sent me a text message saying their flight was delayed. I didn’t know whether my parents were in the park or not. I did my best not to think about any of it. I knew that if I thought about everything that moment meant, I’d be way overwhelmed.

“I tried to simplify things while I was on deck. I think it was Darnell McDonald who got an infield hit ahead of me, and the bases were loaded. I was like, All right. Here we go. Let’s see what happens.

“I went up there thinking, He [Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton] probably knows this is my first at-bat. He knows I’ve never seen a big-league pitch. I don’t think he was worried about walking a guy in his first at-bat. But I was thinking, He’s not going to throw me a first-pitch fastball. If he does, obviously I’m going to try to hit the ball into the outfield. If he throws me a hanging change-up or a hanging curveball, I’m going to try to drive the ball into the outfield and get a run in.

“I was looking to get the job done early in the count. I didn’t want to get two strikes on me with the bases loaded, because we were down 2-1, and I knew this was a great opportunity to get us back in the game.

“Even though it was a day game, the lights were on. I stepped into the box. I don’t remember hearing the crowd. You know, he threw a pitch I could hit. Off the bat I didn’t think it was gone. It wasn’t a towering hit; it was more a line drive than a fly ball.

“Then I saw [Jayson] Werth [the Phillies’ right-fielder] slow down, and stop, and I realized that the ball had gone out of the park.

“I remember thinking, Make sure to touch all the bases. Let’s not trip on the way around. And do not smile. As soon as I got to second, I thought, No way that’s just happened! But I tried to keep my face professional, and didn’t smile. Then I got home, and all the guys were smiling at the plate when they greeted me, and Darnell slapped me on the helmet, and I thought, Okay, let’s have some fun with it. I practically sprinted back to the dugout with probably the biggest smile I’ve ever had in my life.

“I didn’t find out until after the game that my parents were there to see it.”

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