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Navas slam ends incredible journey
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Forsyth County News
Daniel Nava, batting helmet on and bat in hand, poised to exit the Red Sox dugout Saturday for his first major league at bat, paused beside manager Terry Francona.

“He asked me where I thought his folks were sitting,” Francona told Fox’s television audience. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about that! Go up there and get a hit!’”

Nava took that advice, and another nugget distilled by Sox announcer Joe Castiglione. After taping an interview for the pregame show, Castiglione told Nava a story he heard from Chuck Tanner.

Tanner hit a home run for the Milwaukee Braves in his first major league at bat on April 12, 1955. The message? “Swing at the first pitch, because you’ll never get it back,” Castiglione told Nate Taylor of the Boston Globe.

Moments later, Nava stepped into the batters box to face Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, who had managed to load the bases with Sox.

“I wanted to treat it like I normally do,” Nava told Gordon Edes of “I just said, ‘How are you guys doing [to umpire Bill Hohn and catcher Brian Schneider]?’ They didn’t say anything.”

“I knew it was his first at bat,” Blanton told Edes. “But I tried to throw him a sinker away. I threw it right down the middle, and it didn’t sink.”

Nava swung and drove the ball into the Red Sox bullpen, where teammate Manny Delcarmen made a leaping catch of the momento.

“I was looking for something to drive,” Nava told Taylor. “As I was rounding the bases, I think that’s when I said, ‘Oh, man, I just hit a grand slam!’”

“You’re in shock, really,” Nava’s mom, Becky, told Edes. “Just in awe. You think maybe you’re in a dream.”

“My eyes need Band-Aids because I’ve been crying so much,” Nava’s father, Don, told Taylor. “You think of all the people who said he was too small, too slow, couldn’t throw, couldn’t hit with power.”

“I never doubted him, because I looked at his heart, not his size.”

That’s an amazing statement when you consider the journey Nava took to reach his moment of glory in Fenway Park. How many future major leaguers enter high school standing 4-foot-8 and weighing a strapping 70 pounds?

As he told Mike Andrews of in April, “I was just so small, so I didn’t do very well. I never really was any type of prospect.”

Santa Clara baseball coach Mark O’Brien first met Nava at a baseball camp. “We took him with us as a batboy to Omaha for the College World Series. I think he was 15, but he looked 12.”

But something about Nava clicked with O’Brien. Two years later, he offered to let Nava try out for the Santa Clara team.

“He was about 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds,” O’Brien told Edes. “He showed up and he could barely hit the ball out of the infield. I told him, ‘We’ll keep you on as manager,’ and he did everything for two years, including washing uniforms.”

Nava did something else. “He was shagging flies, hitting in the cages, and kept getting bigger and stronger.”

Financial concerns forced a transfer to the College of San Mateo. Nava began to blossom at the junior college level, hitting over .400 in two seasons there.

That earned him a scholarship — to Santa Clara. All he did was lead the West Coast Conference in hitting, on base percentage, and fielding. Still, not a single major league team deemed him worthy of a draft pick.

Undaunted, Nava tried out with the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden League.

He was cut.

But a year later, they called him back. “They were the only team that actually called me and said they’d give me a shot to play,” Nava told Andrews.

Nava played well enough to attract the Red Sox’ attention, and after the 2007 season they purchased Nava’s contract from Chico for the princely sum of one dollar.

The story isn’t quite that good. Once Nava made the Red Sox organization, the Sox had to pay the league $1,500. But that’s still not breaking the bank.

In 2008, he hit .341 for Class A Lancaster. Last year, he hit .339 for Class A Salem, and .364 for Double-A Portland. This year, he was hitting .294 for Triple-A Pawtucket with 8 homers and 38 RBI when he got the call to come to Boston, the end of one incredible journey.

“I’m about to start crying,” Francona told Edes after the game. “I guess I’m getting old. I told him, ‘You’ll never have another day like this in your life. Enjoy it and play the best you can and help us win.’ He did all of those things!”

Francona wasn’t Nava’s only emotional manager. “I had tears in my eyes, man,” O’Brien told Edes. “I’m sure you could do a movie on him.”

You could, indeed. But who’d believe it?