BOSTON -- Control what you can control.
That was the message Daniel Nava gave me last July, as he sat in front of his locker in Triple-A Pawtucket, hours before a minor-league game.
Nava couldn't control the decisions the Red Sox made in 2011, when he played the entire season in Pawtucket, just a year after proving he could play at the big-league level when given a shot.
If you don't already know, Nava's story is unique. He went from being the equipment manager for his college baseball team, to then being purchased by the Red Sox organization for 1, to being called up to Boston and hitting a grand-slam on the first Major-League pitch he saw, to spending the entire next season searching for answers in the minors, to now, where he's received another shot in Boston, and he's certainly making the most of it.
"Daniel Nava's at-bats, his defense, he stole a base today with a real good slide at second, he has played a very good brand of baseball," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after his team's 12-1 win over the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. "It's what we needed. A left-handed hitter who can drive the ball a little and give you a good at-bat, and he's been doing that."
Nava was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday. When he arrived, he wasted no time, and was the first player on the field during the pregame, fielding balls off the Green Monster, for he was hitting sixth and starting in left field against the Indians.
That's where he started in every game of the four-game series against Cleveland, where he finished hitting .600 with six hits, four walks, and was hit by a pitch twice, while driving in four runs.
Sunday was Nava's best performance in the four games he played. He went 2-for-2 and was hit by a pitch twice, while driving in three runs on a pair of doubles. His first double drove in the eventual game-winning run that gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first by driving a ball the other way, off the top of the Green Monster.
At this point, Nava is doing just what he said he could last July in the minors. He is controlling what he can control.
He was just waiting for another shot. The shot that he never got after he was designated for assignment in May of 2011, in order for Boston to make room for Drew Sutton on the 40-man roster.
Nava was then outrighted back to Triple-A Pawtucket because no other Major-League organization claimed him. From there, it was a fresh start. And from there, Nava looked to improve upon his .189 batting average which included zero home runs and only 10 RBI over his first 132 at-bats in Pawtucket to begin the 2011 season.
The kid stopped pressing and let the game come back to him. He controlled only what he could control, and the biggest thing he could control was his swing.
Then-PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis told me last July that once Nava was outrighted back to Pawtucket, following the designation, there was a "huge turnaround" in his approach at the plate.
"It was more mental with him," said Davis last summer. "I said, 'Hey, youve been working on your swing since spring training. When the hell are you going to trust it? Just track the ball and whack it. Your swing's fine. Your swing's a good swing. See the ball, see where it is, see the speed, and trust putting your swing on that ball.'
"Once that suggestion was made, he was in the cage soft-tossing, and he was hitting the ball hard, was consistently on balance, and he took it out to the game. And thats the kind of player he is. When you can take it out of here -- in the batting cages and in batting practice -- and take it into the games, that's when you know that you have something. You're a good enough hitter to be able to maintain that discipline, from the cage work, to batting practice, to the game situations.
"And thats basically what he's done," added Davis. "His swing is his swing. Earlier in the year, he just wasn't trusting it. He always came up with something that didn't feel right or was wrong with it. And from the guy tossing to him or pitching to him, I didn't see anything wrong.
Nava began trusting his swing and got his batting average up to .275 by the middle of the season. He finished 2011 hitting .268 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI.
He also finished the 2011 season without another shot in the big leagues.
Under the new Bobby Valentine regime -- and whether that even matters or not -- Nava wasn't even invited to spring training. He was, however called up towards to end of the spring, and Valentine can remember being impressed with the kid who wasn't even on his radar.
"We called him up at the end of spring training and he played in a game, and he played really well," said Valentine. "Of all the guys that were on the radar, he wasn't one of them. There were some questions that were asked at that time, and he made a good impression on us in the couple games he played in spring training. And we told him so, and I think he took that into the Triple-A season, and Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler continued to praise his at-bats and his play in Triple-A.
"We were finally able to get an open roster spot, and figured we'd take a look. Ya, he's played really well."
Nava didn't just get the long-awaited call-up back to Boston because they needed a left-handed hitter. He also got the call because he was hitting .316 in 95 at-bats in Triple-A.
He's carried that success into his current role in Boston, as the starting left fielder, and he's been a big reason for the team's current three-game winning streak.
Before this, Valentine didn't really know much about the former collegiate equipment-manger-turned-pro. He just knew that his initial impression late in spring training was a good one. And his words of encouragement may have helped Nava stay on the right path.
"It's always nice to hear any positive feedback you can get, especially from the manager of the Boston Red Sox," said Nava, while recalling a spring training conversation he had with Valentine. "I try to digest it as best I can, but at the same time, I knew that if I was ever going to get back up here, there was a lot of work that had to be done."
Nava, as usual, is just taking his baseball life day-by-day. As usual, he's just controlling what he can control.
And as usual, it's working.