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Grand entrance for Nava

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 12, 2010 11:13 PM

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nava.jpgToday, Daniel Nava had a dream come true. Tomorrow, he may have another coming to visit.

Nope, life's not too shabby at the moment for the 27-year-old rookie outfielder, who this afternoon authored a debut so unbelievable, so perfect, so damn Disney, that it's place in franchise lore was secure before David Ortiz genially shoved him out for a curtain call.

On the first pitch Nava saw in the major leagues, he bashed a grand slam. A grand slam. On the first pitch. Well, of course he did.

Why not? Might as well dream big -- what else is a 4-foot-8-inch, 70-pound high school freshman to do? His love of baseball and his dream to succeed at it is what kept him going as an equipmentmanager at Santa Clara, when he couldn't make the team as a freshman . . . and through junior college and a growth spurt and then back for a year of redemption at Santa Clara . . . and when the Chico (Don't Call Us The Bail Bondsmen) entry in the Golden Baseball League told him he wasn't good enough . . . and when baseball season went on without him . . . and then when he received a halfhearted reprieve from Chico and tore it up . . . and then kept tearing it up after entering the Sox system, who paid all of a $1 for this baseball scratch ticket . . . and through Lancaster and Salem and Portland and Pawtucket . . .

And then yesterday. First at-bat, the one he'd been waiting for, the one so many along the way told him would never come. One pitch. One swing. Grand slam. In retrospect, it's too bad his home-run trot was more like a home-run sprint. If ever anyone deserved to savor the lap around the bases, it's Nava, by all accounts friendly, appreciative kid who won a lot of friends on his way up the ladder in the Sox system. You have to have a sense of humor about yourself -- or maybe it's again supreme confidence in the face of long odds -- to leave a ticket at will call for ESPN personality and "Dancing With The Stars" vixen Erin Andrews every game for three years.

I've tried to come up with a parallel in Red Sox history, for the Nava story, and I've got, well, nada. The only somewhat similar long shot at all who had his moment with the Red Sox is Morgan Burkhart, the Babe Ruth of the Frontier League, who came up at age 28 with the 2000 Red Sox and looked like he might stick around as a decent stick off the bench or a DH, hitting four homers with a .935 OPS in 96 plate appearances that season. But word soon got out that he couldn't touch or lay off a high fastball, and his time with the Sox ended with 34 plate appearances and a .509 OPS in 2001. Guess the scouts -- or the fastballs -- aren't that effective in the Frontier League.

In terms of a feel-good story, it's probably rivaled by minor league vagabond Darnell McDonald's debut earlier this season with the Sox, when he homered late to tie the game then drove in the winning run in his next at-bat. McDonald, with his 100 adjusted OPS, has been a blessing for the outfielder-repellent Red Sox this season. But compared to the long and winding path Nava took to the Fenway Park batter's box, McDonald, a former first-round pick who received a $1.9 million bonus by the Baltimore Orioles to sign in 1997, has had an easy and forgiving baseball existence.

Nava's baseball future has always been unpredictable, and it remains so. He's mashed at everywhere he's been -- he was batting .294 with eight homers, 38 RBIs, and an .856 OPS at Pawtucket, easily his worst numbers since he's been in the Sox system -- but he's always been a few years older than his competition, and only this year did he crack the top 30 prospects in the Sox' system according to Baseball America. But he's not a one-dimensional plodder like Burkhart -- he's reportedly an average outfielder with a better-than-average arm -- and provided he can survive Adrian Beltre's dastardly plan the annihilate the rib cage of every Red Sox left fielder, he may get a genuine opportunity here.

While the cynic's temptation is to say it's never going to get better for him than today, the cynics should just stay out of this story. Besides, tomorrow looks like it might be pretty decent day for Nava, too. He's in the big leagues, the dream has become reality, and a certain dancing someone might just be coming to take that ticket.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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