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Nava's mom always supportive of unpredictable career

Becky Nava never second-guessed son's path to Major Leagues despite obstacles

BOSTON -- Sometimes, the parents of a Major League baseball player can just be along for the ride as their son dominates at one level after another before finally reaching his dream.

Then there is the story of Daniel Nava, who clawed and clawed just to stay relevant in his sport.

And now, at the age of 30, Nava has at last reached the point where he is not just a Major League player, but a good one who has had several dramatic hits during what is shaping up to be a breakthrough season.

Though Nava is caught up in the grind of the season, he is the type of person who will sometimes stop and take stock in those who helped him during his unique journey.

With Mother's Day on Sunday, it's fitting that Nava took a few minutes to talk about the woman who has been his rock his entire life.

Both of Nava's parents always supported him as he tried to attain what sometimes seemed unreachable goals. His father, Don, was an athlete himself, a collegiate quarterback. So Nava got a lot of his competitive spirit there.

But when Daniel had a bad day on the baseball field from childhood on up, his mother, Becky, was usually the one who had just the right thing to say.

"I think the support system from her was big," Nava said. "My dad was an athlete, so I think it was nice to have the opposite side of a mom who was just always being that supportive backbone, so to speak.

"When you're a little kid and you go 0-for-4, and the world is about to end, it's nice to have your mom be there and be like, 'It's going to be OK.' The older you get, obviously you grow out of that. But as a kid when you've never failed before, it's all so new, and to have your mom do the 'mom things' is something every player here never forgets, and I think they really appreciate it."

With a large number of players who are in the Major Leagues, a parent would never have a reason to second-guess their child's career path along the way.

But Nava weighed 70 pounds when he started high school. He started his collegiate days at Santa Clara University as an equipment manager, performing monotonous deeds such as washing uniforms. When the Nava family could no longer afford the tuition at Santa Clara, Daniel enrolled at a junior college -- the College of San Mateo (Ca.).

It was there that his baseball career started to blossom. By senior year, Nava was back at Santa Clara, this time as a player.

Still, it wasn't enough to grab the eye of Major League Baseball. Nava went undrafted. In 2007, the only team that would employ him to play baseball was the Chico Outlaws, an independent team not affiliated with Minor League Baseball.

Somehow, the Red Sox found him, and they secured his services by giving the Outlaws one dollar.

Nava began his Minor League career with the Red Sox in 2008, methodically working his way up the chain.

By June 12, 2010, when the Red Sox called him up in an emergency roster move for a Saturday afternoon game against the Phillies, most in the team's ardent fanbase had never even heard of him. And that says something, given how knowledgeable Red Sox fans are about Minor Leaguers.

That day was rewarding for Becky Nava in that it showed she was right to never question her son for chasing his goal.

"I think that was the cool thing," said Daniel. "She never really tried to steer me in a different direction, or questioned, 'Why are you still hanging on?' She was supportive when I was a team manager, and then when things changed and I wasn't a team manager, she didn't change.

"I never felt like her love for me was greater when I was playing in the big leagues or when I was a team manager. It was still all the same."

When Nava became the second player in Major League history to belt a grand slam on the first pitch of his career -- in front of a nationally-televised audience, no less -- the entire family rejoiced.

"That was a weird day, because I actually didn't know if they made it [to the game] or not," Nava said. "I didn't find out until after the game that they made it. For her to experience that was a nice little summation of how the whole story went."

But in typical Nava fashion, things didn't become easy from there. Nava would go back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket several more times in 2010.

And by 2011, he had fallen into such an offensive rut in the Minors that the Red Sox seemed to forget about him entirely.

Then came the true piece of humble pie. When Spring Training started in 2012, Nava wasn't even on the 40-man roster anymore.

He was back at Minor League Spring Training, pouring sweat in the mid-afternoons, several hours after the Major Leaguers had already finished their morning workout.

By this time, Nava already had the claim to fame, hitting that grand slam. It might not have been outlandish if Becky Nava would have said something like, "Hey son, how about giving something else a try?"

There was nothing like that. Just like when he was an equipment manager, Nava's parents had full trust in his process.

"They've just always been very supportive of whatever I choose to do, knowing that I don't rush into a decision," Nava said. "I'll think about it, I'll pray about it, I'll make my decision from there. It's not like they really worry about, 'OK, now I'm going to become a professional skydiver or something out of the blue.' I wasn't always so at ease with everything."

As Nava quietly worked his way on to the club's radar with a strong start at Pawtucket in 2012, Boston's regular outfielders started dropping like flies. Carl Crawford was hurt. So, too, was Jacoby Ellsbury. Ryan Sweeney went down with a concussion. Cody Ross broke his foot.

Has a team ever suffered such a rash of injuries at one position at one time? Perhaps not.

But Nava was there waiting. By May 10, 2012, he was back in the Major Leagues. He was off to a strong start before wrist injuries hampered his play. Nava wound up hitting .243 with a .352 on-base percentage in 317 plate appearances. There was also marked improvement in his defense.

Heading into this past Spring Training, Nava's goal was to make an Opening Day roster for the first time. Not only did he do that, but he became the team's primary left fielder against right-handers.

In the home opener, it was Nava snapping a tie with a dramatic three-run homer against the Orioles. On that emotion-filled day at Fenway Park on April 20 -- the first baseball game in Boston since the tragic Boston Marathon bombings -- Nava again ripped a three-run homer, this one in the bottom of the eighth to pull Boston out of a deficit and lead the team to victory.

To be sure, these are fun days to be Becky Nava.

"I think she's just excited that she could be a part of the process and the journey, and I think that's something she should be, because she was washing the grass stains out of my pants when I was a kid in Little League and stuff," said Nava. "I'm glad she could experience it, and I think every player here would always have some great story to say about their parents, especially their moms, consoling them or supporting them."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.

Boston Red Sox, Daniel Nava