CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The first time Pete Mackanin saw Daniel Nava, it was in his first major league at-bat with the Boston Red Sox in 2010. Nava, on the first pitch he saw, hit a grand slam off Phillies starting pitcher Joe Blanton.
Mackanin said he's liked Nava ever since that day, and it was one of the reasons the Phillies signed him to a minor-league contract in December.
Now that the Phillies manager has gotten a closer look at Nava this spring he has an even greater appreciation for what the 34-year-old outfielder can bring to the team.
"One of the things we talked about over the winter was getting someone that can give us professional at-bats, and he certainly looks like he controls the strike zone," Mackanin said. "He doesn't get himself out, he gives you quality at-bats every time he goes up to the plate."
Nava went 4 for 4 with a triple and run scored against his former team on Sunday. He's hitting 10 of 21 (.476) this spring.
"Obviously, spring training, you take it with a grain of salt but 4 for 4 is also better than 0 for 4," Nava said. "I wasn't trying to do too much and the [ball] just fell where they weren't standing."
It's safe to say Nava took the road less traveled to get to his eighth year of service in the major leagues. He tried out for the baseball team at Santa Clara University and was cut, so he became the team equipment manager. After two years Nava left Santa Clara to play junior college baseball at the College of San Mateo (Calif.). He was named a Junior College All-American and was given a scholarship to return to Santa Clara.
Professionally, he bounced around in Independent Leagues and even took a year off before going back to the Indies, where the Red Sox purchased his contract from the Chico Outlaws for $1. Nava made it through big-league camp (the Red Sox paid Chico $1,499 to keep him after spring) and began working his way through the system until that grand slam against Blanton.
"You know, I've had a lot of doors open in my favor," Nava said. "The Red Sox gave me a shot when no one else did and I'll always be grateful for that. Fortunately, I was able to play well enough to get a chance to play for a World Series, something I'll never forget."
Nava's best season in the majors was in 2013 with the Red Sox. He played in 134 games and had a slash line of .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs -- all career highs. His numbers have gone down considerably since then but he still has the desire to prove he belongs in the league.
This season with the Phillies, he will be asked to give quality at-bats and be a veteran influence on a talented young roster that is learning how to compete and fight for wins.
Nava is just happy to have the chance for days like Sunday to happen.
"It's a good reminder just to not take it for granted that you have an opportunity [to compete]," Nava said. "I know for a fact that that opportunity isn't always there."