Daniel Nava stood 4’8” and weighed 70 pounds as a high school freshman. Daniel Nava hit a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat in Fenway Park. Which of these statements do you believe is true? If you said both, you are correct. No matter how you look at it, the two statements are not normally connected with the same person. Sure, Nava has grown some since he was 15; but not as much as you may be suspecting. Size was just one of the obstacles he had to deal with and subsequently overcome.
The first time Nava set foot on a Major League field was during Little League. His grandmother had entered his name in a contest to throw out the first pitch at an Oakland A’s game… and he won. He bravely wore his Little League Dodgers uniform. It wasn’t the last time Nava would be on a Major League field. But the trip from the first time to the second was not a direct route.
After graduating high school, Nava attended Santa Clara University but failed to make the team. Santa Clara head coach, Mike O’Brien, simply said, “…he couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield.” The only role in the Santa Clara baseball program Nava was offered was the equipment manager. While most players facing the same situation would have walked away, Nava accepted and was set to spend his freshman year washing, instead of wearing, the Santa Clara uniform; compiling game film instead of being in it; charting pitches instead of hitting them. He had personally shifted his baseball dreams from playing to scouting or coaching. “The door had been shut,” he said. “I thought that my time was over.” However, without the option of playing, Nava and his family quickly realized they could not afford the tuition at Santa Clara. This seemingly insult to injury may have actually saved his baseball playing dream. He moved on to junior college in San Mateo where he would have the chance to play. After a successful season he returned to Santa Clara as a senior, but this time on full scholarship. Despite batting .395 Nava went undrafted and was once again faced with a decision. Was it time to call it quits or should he give independent ball a shot?
By now, you probably know the answer. In 2006, Nava decided to try out for the Chico Outlaws, a member of the Golden Baseball Independent League. Nava did not make the team. At this point he had not made the decision to give up but his options were seemingly non-existent. In 2007, while playing on a co-ed softball team, Nava received a phone call from a coach. It was not the Yankees or Dodgers. Nonetheless, it gave him hope. It was the coach of the Chico Outlaws. He did not give Nava a spot on the team. He simply called him to let him know they were having another tryout. This time Nava made the team. He was back in baseball, such as it was. That year, Nava batted .371 and hit 12 home runs in 256 at-bats. This performance got him named Baseball America’s Independent Player of the Year for 2007. It also got the attention of the Boston Red Sox who bought out Nava’s independent contract. It wasn’t exactly a huge investment. Boston had bought Daniel Nava’s future for $1. Nava couldn’t care less about that. He had finally gotten a chance to achieve his life’s goal. But $1 doesn’t buy a player many opportunities. Nava knew he would have to perform immediately or risk being sent back to either the Independent League or a co-ed softball team.
Nava spent two years in Boston’s minor league system before being called up in 2010. The unknown Nava did something only one other player had ever done the history of Major League Baseball. Nava hit a grand slam on the first major league pitch he saw. How do you top that? Well, for Nava, he wouldn’t hit another major league homer for 2 years. He finished his rookie season in 2010 with a modest .241 average in 161 at-bats. Boston left him in the minors for the entire 2011 season before calling him up during the 2012 season, during which time he batted a similar .243 in 267 at-bats.
In 2013, Nava made the big league squad out of spring training.
“It’s been fun, that’s for sure, and I’m grateful for all the things that have led up to this point because they’ve definitely shaped who I am. It’s interesting. It’s unique. But it’s been a lot of fun. I’d be lying to say it hasn’t been fun.”
As an update, since 2013, Nava has been with Toronto, back to Boston, Tampa, back to Toronto, LA Angels, Kansas City and in 2017 he played in 80 games batting over .300 and knocking in 21 runs…for the Phillies, the team he hit that grand slam off of. Next year will be Nava’s 8th MLB season. He is still living his unlikely dream…unlikely to others.
Think about it..if Nava had allowed his pride to overshadow his passion, what a life he would have missed! Many guys would have given up after getting cut at Santa Clara. We all have so many ‘jumping off points’ in our life–an opportunity to save our pride, so to speak. To get out while we can. What do we miss when we jump off early?
The first 2 games of the 2007 World Series between the Red Sox and Rockies were played in Boston. For Game 3, the series moved to Coors Field in Denver. Outside the visiting player’s entrance stood a security guard whose job it was to identify all the Red Sox players and not to let anyone in who shouldn’t be (lost fans, autograph seekers, etc.). One of the people he stopped and refused entry was Boston’s starting 2nd baseman, Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had to pull out his ID to get in to play. The guard didn’t think it was possible that this little guy could possibly be a professional baseball player. Pedroia has been proving people wrong his entire life.
Along the way, there were some major obstacles, however. In 2002, while playing with Team USA in the Netherlands, Pedroia was struck in the eye by a ground ball that he was attempting to field. It crushed his eye socket breaking 6 bones in addition to giving him a concussion. It was 2 weeks before he was even able to open the eye and find out if he could see. Fortunately, his eyesight was fine and the scars would eventually disappear nearly completely, but one thing lingered…the fear of getting hit again. Pedroia’s hitting was fine, but he had lost his desire to play infield. He requested to be moved to the outfield. He couldn’t get over the mental block.
His college coach, Pat Murphy, set him up with a sports psychologist who he felt could help him. The following excerpt from Dustin’s book, Born To Play: My Life In The Game, describes their interaction in Pedroia’s own words:
Coach Murphy said he wanted me to work with a sports psychologist he knew. He said, “I trust him, he’s awesome, he’ll get you out of it.”
I said, “Okay, who is he?”
I said, “Who in the (world) is Harvey Dorfman?” I had just turned nineteen and I had no idea what a sports psychologist was. I didn’t know that Harvey Dorfman was the best sports psychologist there was, the best in the world.
Harvey said to me, “So what’s your problem? What is it that’s bothering you?”
I said, “Well, I got knocked out by a ground ball—a concussion, six broken bones, plastic surgery, the whole gig.”
Then I told him, “I don’t want to take a ground ball. I’m afraid.”
Harvey said, “Well, what are you afraid of?”
I said, “What the (heck) do you think I’m afraid of? If I get hit again in the face by a ground ball, it’ll probably hurt a lot more than the last time.”
He looked at me and said, “Yeah, it probably will.”
He thought about it for a second and then said, “But weren’t you born to play this game?”
I said, “Yeah, I am, I’d like to think so.”
“Okay,” he said, “So stop being a (wimp) and just go out and do it then.” It was like he was pulling this drill-sergeant (stuff).
He said, “If you’re afraid of the ball, then why don’t you go out and play short with a catcher’s mask on? You’re going to look like an idiot, and people will call you a (wimp), but at least it’ll all be over with, being afraid of the ball.”
And I’m just staring at him and not saying anything. I’m just sitting there thinking. Harvey Dorfman’s the man…
Harvey asked me what the worst thing that could happen was. “It already happened,” he said. “And you got through it. What you’re feeling is understandable. You’re human. Anyone in your shoes would be this way.”
I’d felt all along that it was unnatural for me to react the way I had. I’d never shied away from doing anything in my life. It felt like to be afraid was to be taking my manhood away.
From then on, it was done. That’s because Harvey Dorfman had figured out who I was, and had figured out exactly what needed to be said. He matched his message with the person who needed to hear it, which is exactly why he’s the best sports psychologist in the world.
Pedroia had to overcome a lot to get where he’s at, but it seems most of it was the perception others had of him. He never lost his confidence in himself, other than his brief lack of confidence in his ability to field a ground ball. He was constantly battling the lack of confidence others had in him. This probably forced him to be overkill confident at times because he found himself always having to convince someone. We like to think that in life all that matters is what we think.
Unfortunately, for most of us, it matters very much what others think. For Pedroia, if Coach Murphy at Arizona State or the Red Sox scouts had not been able to see past the small stature, he may not have had the opportunity to do what he’s done to this point in his baseball career. We should be careful whose opinions we seek and value, but there is always someone in a position such that their opinion matters. It matters what we do and how well we do it. We can’t simply say, “I’m going to do me” and expect something special to happen, especially if “Me” isn’t as good as we think. It’s vital to be honest about your talent and your potential. In reality, what we think isn’t all that matters and just because you can dream it doesn’t necessarily mean you can achieve it. Dreaming doesn’t take talent. Achieving does.
Another great lesson to be learned from this part of Pedroia’s story is that everyone, no matter how good, is going to experience doubt. Pedroia is about as tough as they come, but he has been beaten up by life just like everyone else. And he came close to giving up, at least on playing infield. The saying, “don’t get too high…it’s a long fall” is definitely true. As Dorfman said, Pedroia had great reason to go through self-doubt after getting hit in the eye. But he pointed out to him that fear is something that can be overcome and many times can be done so just by putting things in perspective. Often, our fears are something that we’ve built up in our mind without really thinking them through. Most of our fears are truly irrational because we normally put no rational thought into their creation. Once we start thinking rationally about the situation, we often see that the true risk is allowing a fear to beat us and rob us of something that we otherwise could have done. Imagine if Pedroia had allowed that one bad hop to beat him and rob him of his ability to play infield!
Most people have heard of the story of David and Goliath. But how much have we overlooked? The Valley of Elah was a strategic area of modern day Israel. It lay between the mountain plain and the coastal plain. The Israelite army under the command of King Saul were dug in on the northern ridge while the Philistines (from the Island of Crete) were dug in on the southern ridge. Neither side was going to retreat…but neither side was going to advance either, because advancing meant crossing over ground that was completely exposed to the enemy. So, eventually the Philistines sent their mightiest warrior who challenged the Israelites to do the same. It was a custom during that time called “single combat.” If two armies couldn’t decide the victor with their armies, it would be decided one on one. The man sent by the Philistines was a giant name Goliath. He stood somewhere between 6’9” and 8’ tall and carried with him multiple weapons including a sword, shield and spear. For these obvious reasons there were no volunteers from within Saul’s army to go down and participate in the single combat. (Remember, whoever lost not only lost their life but the entire losing side would become slaves of the other. No one wanted that responsibility.)
David, a shepherd boy visiting his brother who was an Israelite soldier, learned of what was happening and promptly volunteered. In his mind, he didn’t need too much of a reason to fight a guy who would dare insult his people and his God. King Saul reluctantly accepted the offer (the only one he had), but told David he must put on the battle armor. David tried it on but quickly decided there was no way. He wasn’t a soldier, he didn’t know how to fight in that. So, David set out. All the while, Goliath continued to hurl insults at David, the Israelites and their God. After all, Goliath surely reasoned, what kind of army would send out a kid with only a staff and a sling to do a man’s job? David, without returning any of Goliath’s insults, took out his sling and loaded it with a stone. Seconds later, Goliath was on the ground. David approached him, drew Goliath’s own sword from him and detached the giant head from the giant body. The battle was won.
That’s the story we all are familiar with. Today, we still associate David and Goliath with the story of an underdog. But sometimes, we are took quick to assume someone is an underdog or too quick to assume we are the underdog. God gives all of us talents and abilities. We often feel “outmanned” or “outgunned” in life, but many times it’s more about how we perceive the situation rather than how the situation really is.
Usually the first disadvantage many people accuse David of is being so small compared to Goliath. Was that really a disadvantage in this situation? If the two had planned on hand to hand combat, maybe size would have mattered more, but David never intended on getting any closer to Goliath than the effective range of his sling required. Furthermore, the size of Goliath actually served as a disadvantage for the giant in that he was a bigger target and mobility was obviously not going to be one of his weapons. So, size was an assumed disadvantage for David…an incorrect assumption.
As we take a second look at the David and Goliath story, we can almost say, and justifiably so, that Goliath didn’t have a chance. David was supposed to win that day. If you had asked David he would have told you that before he started down the hill to meet the giant.
Many people say “David only had a sling shot.” Well, there’s a reason shepherds carried those. They were lethal. Ask Goliath. David may not have had the sword, or great spear, or shield, or body armor of Goliath, but he was an expert at handling that sling. And he had a God on his side who wanted him to win. (And God had a fearless and willing warrior.) The key is not the weapons or the size of the two combatants. The key is that David, unlike the entire Israelite army, didn’t allow fear of his apparent disadvantages to obscure the real advantages he knew he had.
As Christians, we too often allow our apparent disadvantages to stop us in our tracks. We are paralyzed by them. We allow Satan to use them against us robbing us of unknown opportunities. And most astonishingly we forget that, if we are doing something within God’s will, He is on our side!! It may be professionally, recreationally or spiritually, but how many great achievements have we missed out on by giving in and giving up due to fear or the feeling of impending defeat? We too often avoid even trying something because we’ve done the math, so to speak, and we don’t feel we have a chance to succeed.
Who are your giants? It may be something specifically preventing you from accomplishing something you want. It may be a strained relationship. It may be something you’ve already tried but failed or something that you’re wanting to do but are afraid to. There are so many things in our lives which seem impossible or simply ‘not worth it’…at first glance. Whatever it is, turn your focus from your apparent disadvantages and start focusing on your advantages. Stop focusing on what’s stopping you and start focusing on what can help you get it done.
And always keep in mind that what may seem like a disadvantage to some can be turned into an advantage, and with God’s help, absolutely anything is possible. Match your dreaming with your praying. Spend more time listening to God and less time listening to the critics or to that little voice that always seems to show up when we have the opportunity to do something great. Whether it was David, or Daniel Nava or Dustin Pedroia, there were two keys: faith in themselves and the ability to overcome fear, not the absence of fear!! Fear is a natural state but it’s also something we, as Christians, should be able to cope with and overcome better than anyone else…IF we can find the ability to trust God even in the toughest of times.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7
The baseball careers of Nava and Pedroia are proof that both in their own way have accomplished something few thought they ever would. Both of them had many chances to quit or throw up their hands and say, “I’ve done all I can,” or “I’ve already exceeded everyone’s expectations.” The giants they had to slay early and throughout their ongoing careers included their physical size relative to other baseball players, failures and injuries. David went from a shepherd boy to eventual King of Israel. The first step was killing his giant, literally.
Slay your giant. Take the step of faith and don’t be afraid of what others will think with regard to your failure or success. Nava, Pedroia and David made many mistakes throughout and there were many times that others wouldn’t have been able to overcome the struggle or the embarassment. Those who do, and don’t merely dream, soon realize that what others think while you’re struggling is temporary. Lasting is what you achieve in the end.
For Christians, the challenge is clear. Live a fearless life that has a positive impact on others. Don’t allow your testimony to be hid or shielded by fear of what others may think. Strive daily to do things that would encourage others to turn to God, and also strive daily to avoid doing things which could cause others to turn away. You may be the only Christian someone personally knows. What kind are you?