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Nova appreciative of how baseball changed his life

NEW YORK -- It didn't take long for Ivan Nova to make an impression in New York after securing a spot in the Yankees' rotation, but the right-hander didn't understand how important his time on the mound really was until he returned home to the Dominican Republic.

After being trusted to make important starts while the Yankees battled for a division title in 2010, Nova traveled home to his tiny hometown of Palenque and stared with disbelief out of a car window, as his return seemed to spark a celebration.

"All the people, they had five buses waiting for me that day," Nova said. "Everybody. I didn't know they would be there. People were running, saying, 'They're coming! They're coming!' It was amazing."

Nova said that in the Dominican, "Everybody learns how to play baseball." Still, Nova didn't really commit to baseball until he was about 14, when a coach noticed his live arm. Before long, Nova said he was facing -- and defeating -- the older competition.

"I loved baseball," Nova said. "I got the chance to see the home run competitions with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire; I watched Pedro Martinez. I remember taking time at 7 o'clock to watch the games every day. That really motivated me to do something, to be part of baseball and do something special."

So, too, did witnessing the financial rewards that could come with success. Nova vividly recalls seeing the shiny car that his fellow countryman, Juan Uribe, sent home for his family to use after making it to the big leagues.

"I saw the way that his family was getting better every time," Nova said. "I was looking at that. I told my mother one day that I want to play baseball, because I want to give my mother a chance to have a better life."

As Nova developed, he caught the attention of big league slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who operated an academy in the Dominican Republic. Nova said that Guerrero helped him enter the academy, providing a valuable experience for his formative years.

"He used to give me gloves, he used to give me spikes," Nova said. "We had a really, really good relationship. He called me his 'other son.' He has been a really, really good person. I'm glad I had that communication with him."

One of five brothers, Nova credits his oldest brother, Manuel, with fueling his aspirations to go that far. Manuel had nearly signed his own contract with the Marlins before fate intervened.

"He was about to sign, but he got hurt," Nova said. "After that, he told me, 'You can be a baseball player, if you focus.'"

The stakes were high. Nova said a favorite challenge in his home was to wager extra dinner helpings over at-bats.

"I remember me and my brothers would always play for food," Nova said. "If I struck you out, you'd give me food. If you get a hit, I'd give you some of mine. I'd bet my food that I'm going to strike you out. A lot of times, I'd lose, because they'd get a hit."

Pitching proved to be a better fit than Nova's initial forays into baseball. As a shortstop, Nova was too big and not quite fast enough, and a gruesome injury put a quick end to any career he might have had as an outfielder.

"I remember one time I was playing the outfield, and somebody hit a fly ball. I caught the ball and hit my mouth on the wall. It cut my lips and everything," said Nova, who had to be taken to a hospital for stitches.

Initially scouted by the Red Sox, Nova received a contract offer, but he wasn't impressed by Boston's overtures. He and his father were Yankees fans, and if Nova was going to put his name on a contract, it was going to be with New York -- and he did so in July 2004.

"I told my mother, 'I'm not going back to school, I want to play baseball,'" Nova said. "I was fighting every day with her; she was trying to send me back to school, and I decided to come here and sign with the Yankees."

Now that Nova has penned a success story, he hopes to give back to the Dominican Republic the way those notable names helped him on the way up.

He recalls working out in the Dominican after making his Major League debut, getting his offseason throwing and running in, and seeing a group of young players going through drills on an adjacent field.

"I was walking out of the stadium and they were doing PFP [pitchers' fielding practice]," Nova said. "And on a ground ball to first base, the pitcher stayed on the mound. I said, 'Hey, you've got to cover first base!' I realized that they didn't teach him to do that. They don't do the fundamentals.

"I told my brother, 'We've got to stay here a little bit longer.' I spent an hour with those kids, teaching them to do the things that I remember no one taught to me. The guys saw me and were like, 'I know that guy!' It was a fun moment. I would do it again."

New York Yankees, Ivan Nova