CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was Daniel Nava’s job to find a laundromat each time the Santa Clara University baseball team traveled to a new city.
The Phillies outfielder was cut from his college baseball team after trying to earn a spot as a walk-on. But he was allowed to be the team manager. And the manager had to wash the uniforms.
“I was done,” said Nava, who is trying to continue his incredible baseball journey this spring by earning a spot with the Phillies. “There wasn’t an intent to play anymore.”
Nava stayed on as Santa Clara’s manager with the hope that the Broncos coach would help him land a front-office job in professional baseball. He helped set up the fields and charted pitches during games. Nava was just 5-foot-7. He had no qualms with being cut.
There was not a scholarship for the team manager and the private school’s tuition became too much of a burden after two years. Nava had to leave school for a junior college near home. That school — College of San Mateo — happened to have a baseball team. Nava grew three inches since being cut by Santa Clara. He decided to try out.
“I went out there and the balls were jumping off my bat like they never did before because I had grown,” Nava said.
Nava’s baseball dream — the one that seemed finished when he was lugging his team’s uniforms into laundromats — was reignited. He spent two seasons at San Mateo and earned his way to Santa Clara for the 2006 season. This time, Nava had a scholarship and a spot on the team. He flourished, batting .395 with a .494 on-base percentage and earning all-conference honors. But Nava went undrafted in June.
“Because my story was so unique, no one had heard of me and no one gave me a shot,” Nava said. “I did everything I was supposed to. I hit almost .400 in Division I baseball. But I wasn’t on the map. They didn’t want to give a shot to a guy that was 23. They thought I was just a little old.”
Nava, who turned 34 last month, spent the rest of the 2006 season searching for a job. He tried out for two independent league clubs, only to be cut. Nava attended open tryouts for major-league teams. They too passed. He had to wait until the next season when he received a call from the Chico Outlaws, one of the independent league teams that cut him. An Outlaws outfielder had stopped showing up. Nava had his chance.
Nava generated enough buzz with the Outlaws to capture the attention of the Boston Red Sox, who purchased his contract for a dollar. They placed Nava for the 2008 season as a fourth outfielder in single A. In a familiar role, Nava was a long shot.
“Then a guy got hurt and that gave me the chance to play every day,” Nava said. “I was able to do well there and kept moving up the levels. That’s my life in a little nutshell.”
Nava reached the majors in June of 2010, making his debut against the Phillies at Fenway Park. He rocked the first pitch he saw for a grand slam off Joe Blanton. The former college manager had arrived in the major leagues. He spent parts of five seasons with the Red Sox and won a World Series ring in 2013.
“I can’t control the road I’ve had. It just took a lot longer to get that shot,” Nava said. “I will always be grateful that the Sox gave me that shot. That’s something I’ll never forget. They gave me that door to go through.”
Nava joined the Phillies this offseason, accepting an invitation to spring training. The switch-hitter can play both right and left field. Nava is competing with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, and Cameron Perkins to crack the team as a fifth outfielder. The competition is stiff. The Phillies seem to have a loaded outfield in triple A, meaning it could be a spot in the majors or nothing for Nava.
Nava might be a long shot. But all he ever needed was a chance.
“That’s just the road I’ve had,” Nava said. “I’ve had my back up against the wall, trying to make teams and stuff like that. That’s just how it’s taken place. I’m used to it and grateful that I’m here now.”