(picture via Boston Globe)
A baseball player is always going to remember his first appearance in the show: whether it be on the pitcher’s mound, or next to home plate–it’s going to be engraved into his memory forever. I sometimes wonder how it feels. Unless he is getting the borderline ridiculous hype that Stephen Strasburg is getting, he might be relatively unknown. Not everyone follows the minor leagues, but I think they are really exciting. Watching a minor league game is like gazing into a crystal ball because it’s a glimpse into the future. It also makes a player’s debut that much more exciting because in a way, you have shared a part of his journey.
Daniel Nava’s journey was certainly a special one. Nava isn’t the typical story of the star prospect drafted in the first few rounds making his debut after tearing up the minor leagues. That’s a story that you will get if you read about Buster Posey (Giants), Jason Heyward (Braves), Carlos Santana (Indians), Starlin Castro (Cubs), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), or Mike Stanton (Marlins). Nava was cut from his college team, and cut from the Golden League (part of the Independent Leagues). He was never built like a baseball player. In his freshman year of high school, he was shorter and smaller than I was. The odds didn’t stop him though–he never gave up on his dream. He overcame adversity and went back to the Golden League when his team had a void that they needed to fill.
He was the MVP of the Golden League in 2007, and he signed with the Red Sox as an “undrafted free agent” before the 2008 season. That’s a pretty remarkable story to begin with. There are 50 rounds in the First Year Player Draft: the Red Sox’s 50th pick, a right handed pitcher named Weston Hoekel, was 1523 overall. A lot of players drafted in later rounds will go to college instead, and wait to be drafted in a higher round when they are eligible again. Nava’s story goes to show people that there is no shame being drafted late, or maybe even not being drafted it all. You can still make it. He is the paradigm of the famous aphorism: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
I was at his Double-AA debut last summer when I was in Portland. He had a hit, which really impressed me because the jump from Single-A to Double-AA is considered to be the toughest by many. Nava was assigned to Triple-AAA Pawtucket this season, and he has been consistently tearing it up for the entire season. Upon being called up, he led the PawSox in batting average at .294, home runs with eight, RBIs with 38, OBP at .394, and a slugging percentage at .492. Despite these stellar numbers (and the numbers that he has put up since signing with the Red Sox), he often flew under the radar due to his draft status (or lack thereof). Outfield prospects like Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick get a lot of attention (deservedly) due to their high draft status. While I am certain that they will help out the Red Sox at some point in the future, they are still developing.
Why wasn’t Nava called up earlier then? The way I see it, calling up Josh Reddick first was a great move–especially after the torrential spring training he had. The Red Sox obviously want to get his feet wet because they consider him an integral part of the outfield of the future. Then they called up Darnell McDonald, who is a minor league veteran (since 1998 or 1999), and has also had experience around the Majors. Nava’s consistency and overall performance certainly warranted a call up at some point this season, and I’m glad that the organization felt the same way.
It has been said that this is the year of the pitcher, and I don’t doubt that. There have been two perfect games, a no-hitter, and a 28 out perfect game (among other spectacular performances). Wouldn’t it also be fair to call this the year of the rookie as well? Jason Heyward hit a home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat on Opening Day. Starlin Castro had something like six RBIs in his debut. Mike Stanton had two hits in his debut. Stephen Strasburg, whose curveball is the best thing I’ve seen since Timothy Lincecum’s slider, had 14 strikeouts. Darnell McDonald isn’t really a rookie, but he had a home run and a double to tie and win the game in his Red Sox debut.
(via Boston Globe)
There’s nothing quite like Daniel Nava’s debut though. Coming up with the bases loaded in your first major league at-bat is probably something he dreamed about as a kid. A single or a double would have brought Red Sox fans and baseball fans alike a smile. Nava went above and beyond though. On the first pitch of his first major league at-bat, Daniel Nava crushed a grand slam into the bullpen. His approach, impeccable; his style, instrumental; and his debut was priceless.
Nava joins a very elite club. He is only the second person in Major League history to hit a grand slam on the first pitch of his first at-bat; the other being Kevin Kouzmanoff in his debut with Cleveland in 2006. He also became the fourth guy to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat (first pitch or not). The Red Sox now have two guys who have hit grand slams in their first at-bat in the Majors: Nava, and a victim of Adrian Beltre’s wrath: Jeremy Hermida. I remember watching that at-bat in 2005: his debut with the Marlins. When he was signing for me during Spring Training, I mentioned it to him. The grin that came to his face was indicative of the significance of that memory to him. I asked him which pitch it was on, but I couldn’t hear his response because everyone around me was yelling.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit where I was during Nava’s at-bat. I was taking a nap because the ACT had completely wiped me out. The fact that I missed this monumental occasion reinforces my deep hatred of standardized testing. When I went to watch the game with my dad, he said, “Just guess what Daniel Nava did in his first at-bat!” “A grand slam?” I guessed. I guessed correctly! But when my dad mentioned that it was on the first pitch, I was in shock and awe. I could not have been happier for him. He is truly an inspiration for people to never give up on their dreams. The only thing I see left for him to do–and this will be the true test of his ability–is to call Adrian Beltre off. If he can do that at some point, he can stay as long as he likes!
I actually want to talk about Beltre for a second. It’s not like he fractured Ellsbury’s and Hermida’s ribs on purpose. He was just doing his job. He goes after every single ball as hard as he can. I don’t think anybody can blame Beltre for trying to do his job. As Terry Francona said, the ball was falling in a place where neither man could call it. My understanding is that a player should only call a ball if he is absolutely positive that he is going to catch it. If the ball is falling into No Man’s Land, and neither player is sure that he will catch it, then neither player should call it! Now since Beltre has clearly demonstrated that he can catch up to that ball and catch it (it fell out of his glove after he collided with Ellsbury), then perhaps he should make those plays from now on. All I’m saying is that we can’t blame Beltre for playing his heart out.
Upon waking up from my nap, my dad also informed me that another pitcher was called up from Pawtucket: Dustin Richardson. I was beyond happy to hear that he was finally called up. I have been very excited about him since spring training of 2009, and it was an absolute pleasure to be able to speak with him a couple of times during this spring training. I thought he was perfectly capable of starting this season in the bullpen, but he told me that he had a couple of things to work on in Pawtucket. He made his major league debut last September, and he did so well that I thought he was capable of pitching in the postseason. If you are not as familiar with him, you can click on his name in the tags section at the bottom of this entry to read what I have previously written about him. There is a possibility that he will only be up until Dice-K returns from the 15 Day DL (late scratch last night due to a stiff forearm), but if he pitches the way that I know he will, then the Red Sox might be lucky enough to have him up the rest of the season. I hope that I’ll be able to see him when I go to the Giants vs Red Sox game later this month! I’m pretty sure that I say, “Bring Dustin Richardson up!” at least once during every game, and I probably tweet it every night. I hope he doesn’t forget about me now that he’s a big Major Leaguer.
In his first outing of the 2010 season, Richardson got two outs on three pitches. That’s more efficient than Stephen Strasburg.