June 12, 2010
by Ian Browne, MLB.com
The kid who was 70 pounds when he started high school made a dramatic entrance to the Major Leagues on Saturday. Daniel Nava, an undrafted prospect the Red Sox signed out of an Independent League in January 2008, swatted the very first pitch he saw from Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton and put it into the Boston bullpen in right-center for a grand slam.
Just like that, Nava became the second player in Red Sox history to hit a grand slam in his first plate appearance with the team and first since Rip Repulski on May 10, 1960, against the White Sox. Nava is only the fourth player to hit a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat, and first since Kevin Kouzmanoff did it for the Padres on Sept. 2, 2006. Nava's new teammate, Jeremy Hermida, hit a pinch-hit grand slam in his first career at-bat for the Marlins on Aug. 31, 2005.
Nava is the 10th player in the long and storied history of the Red Sox to go deep in his first plate appearance with the club, and second this season. Darnell McDonald also did so April 20 against the Rangers.
Even before the grand slam, it had already been a surreal day for the 27-year-old Nava, who was summoned to Boston from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Josh Reddick's spot on the roster. The Sox optioned Reddick to Pawtucket after Friday night's game so that he could get more regular at-bats.With both Jacoby Ellsbury and Hermida on the disabled list with rib fractures, the switch-hitting Nava will share playing time in left field with McDonald and Bill Hall.
Was Nava really 70 pounds as a ninth-grader in the Bay Area?
"I was," said Nava. "I really was. I was really small. I didn't grow until sophomore year of college. I really was 70 pounds. I couldn't go on the rides at the theme parks, I was so small."
Could that kid have ever dreamed of starting for the Red Sox and standing in front of the historic Green Monster?
"That kid could barely swing a 32-inch bat, so I don't think he was thinking about the big leagues or anything like that," Nava said. "It's been a fun run, that's for sure."
Something happened along the way. Nava's body started to fill out -- he is listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds in the media guide -- and never stopped working. After college stints at the College of San Mateo (junior college) and Santa Clara University, he played for the independent league Chico Outlaws, winning the Most Valuable Player of the Golden Baseball League. He started his stint with the Red Sox at Class A Lancaster in 2008, before moving on to Salem and Double-A Portland in '09. He played 54 games for Pawtucket this season, hitting .294 with eight homers, 38 RBIs and a .364 on-base percentage.
"Nava is kind of a good story," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's an independent league kid out of college -- he's hit everywhere he's been. There's been a lot of people in player development that have been talking about this kid for the last little while, saying, he can help you win games. So he's going to get a chance."
Nava could hardly contain his excitement before the game. Actually, he didn't try to contain it.
"It's obviously a dream come true," Nava said. "I was telling my friends, 'Sorry guys if I don't know what to say because I'm kind of speechless, the whole thing happened so fast.' I'm trying to learn what to do, where to go."
The nerves quickly turned to production, as Nava introduced himself to Red Sox fans in the most emphatic way possible.