For a guy making only $15 K more than the major-league minimum, and who wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot during Spring Training, Daniel Nava is making quite an impact. After smashing rousing, go-ahead home runs in the home opener and in the Sox’ first game home after the Marathon tragedy, he’s continued to collect big hits all season with a professional approach that’s exemplary of this team’s no-BS style.
Through the Sox’ game on July 11th, in which Nava hit the game-winning single in the top of the 10th, the left fielder was hitting .293 and ranked 3rd and 4th on the club with 10 long balls and 52 RBIs, respectively. Up until a recent cold streak dropped his average below .300, his name was beginning to surface in All-Star talk, at least on local sports radio; Tigers manager Jim Leyland, this year’s AL All-Star manager, said Nava was still one of the toughest omissions from this year’s squad.
Nava’s emergence from that slump solidified his production this year as legit rather than lucky. It was hard for some to believe what they saw from him as he hit well over .300 for the season’s first two months; his pedigree, a player who didn’t even make his college team initially, certainly didn’t scream “MLB slugger.” But after battling back from a wicked skid that dropped his average almost 30 points; Nava has proven that he can hang with the big boys. His batting eye is impeccable, helping him post a .380 OBP. His at-bat during the Sox’ 10-inning win over Seattle was the epitome of his game: 0-5 and facing Todd Wilhemsen’s overpowering fastball, Nava hung tough and stayed within himself. He wasn’t enough of a natural hitter to turn on one of Wilhelmsen’s 98 MPH heaters, so he hung back on a breaking ball and grounded it sharply up the middle to score the eventual winning run. That same diligence has helped his defense improve from a liability to a considerable skill.
Having his first standout season at age 30, Nava is something of a late bloomer. But that he bloomed at all is a testament to his dedication, his attitude, and his love for the game. Hitting major-league pitching is almost genetic; it’s something many great players seem born to do. Nava isn’t among them, but he’s willed his way to the top. Better late than Nava.