Their story is a fateful tale that began long ago, back when Nava was a puny freshman in high school and got his first taste of beating the odds. It's hard to believe that a 4-foot-8, 70-pound freshman who struggled each year to make his high school baseball team (but ultimately succeeded each year) would become an unlikely hero for the Boston Red Sox during the first half of 2010.
It's hard to believe, but it happened — just like much everything else in the whirlwind that has become Nava's life over the past two months.
Though he beat the odds in high school, Nava's road thereafter would only prove just as difficult. He couldn't catch the eyes of any college coaches by the time his senior year rolled around, so after spending one year at Santa Clara University, the California native gave junior college a shot. He enrolled at San Mateo, where he'd get a chance to play — and hopefully the chance to impress.
Junior college is, contrary to popular misconception, a smart move for ballplayers who have flown under the radar. Rather than settle for being a bench player who fails to see the light of a batter's box on a Division I team, junior colleges give players the opportunity to play, to grow, to reach their potential. Plenty of two-year junior colleges are feeding pools not only into the Cape Cod League and other prestigious amateur organizations, but they're also feeding pools into big-name baseball schools, particularly in the South. Often, JC does the trick to get a player noticed.
For Nava, it was the first step.
At San Mateo, he performed well enough to be named a JC All-American, earning a spot on the roster back at Santa Clara. He returned to his former stomping grounds and led the West Coast Conference in batting. Still, the scouts didn't come calling, so he tried out for an independent league team in California called the Chico Outlaws.
He got cut.
Then, Nava got an opportunity when another player got hurt almost a year later in 2007. After he hit .371 with a 1.100 OPS, Baseball America took notice, naming him the nation's top IL prospect. The Red Sox took notice, too, purchasing his contract in the first month of 2008.
Nava spent the 2008 season with the Lancaster JetHawks in the California League, where he won the batting title after hitting .341 with a .948 OPS.
It was then that — in the spirit of Tony Romo, who used to do the same for Jessica Simpson — Nava began leaving tickets for Erin Andrews at all of his games. She didn't know who he was; Nava didn't expect her to. But if it was the hope that someday she would that kept Nava chugging along, then so be it. Ever since he started leaving those tickets, Nava has certifiably been on fire.
In 2009, he did a brief stint in the Carolina League before moving on to Double-A Portland for 32 games. And after 54 games in Triple-A Pawtucket this year, his time finally came.
It seems that Nava got used to proving people wrong very early on in life, because by the time he stepped into the box against Joe Blanton on a rainy June afternoon at Fenway Park, he needed to see just one pitch in order to make history.
Everyone loves a good story — even Andrews, who finally got in touch with Nava after he became just the fourth player in MLB history to hit a grand slam in his first big league at-bat and the second to do it on the first pitch.
Nava's infatuation with Andrews quickly became public knowledge after his rapid ascension to Red Sox folk hero on June 12, and finally, after all these years, Nava's dream came true.
After that grand slam, Andrews wrote on Twitter that she "hoped to meet him soon."
The stars almost aligned a few days later. Andrews, a New England native, was in town to see the Celtics, and she figured it might be a good time to catch one of Nava's games and maybe even meet him during batting practice. Unfortunately, she didn't get there in time, and ever the team player, she didn't want to cause a media circus and distract the young prospect.
"I didn't want to mess with the kid," Andrews told Fanhouse. "He was on such a high and I didn't want all the older ballplayers to tease him or anything like that."
Since their almost-encounter, Nava hasn't stopped leaving tickets. And he hasn't stopped tearing the cover off the ball, either. In 89 plate appearances since his call-up in mid-June, Nava has hit .300 with an .858 OPS and a .488 slugging percentage. He hasn't gone deep since that first grand slam, but he has proven to manager Terry Francona that pressure means nothing to him. On July 2, with the score knotted in the eighth inning against Baltimore, Nava entered the game as a pinch-hitter and tallied a game-winning bloop single just inside the first baseline.
Nava's been facing pressure all his life. Why should he be afraid of it now?
Nava has clearly been preparing for this opportunity for a while. If his light on the horizon has been a fateful meeting with Erin Andrews, if that is what helps him refrain from taking all of this too seriously, if that is what he strives for, then maybe it's a good thing he hasn't met her yet. Everyone needs a star to reach for — what happens when you finally achieve what you never dreamed was possible?
And who knows? Maybe some day, the stars will align and things will work out between them. Everything else in Nava's life has worked out just like a fairy tale — why should this be any different?
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