SAN DIEGO — Daniel Nava is no stranger to long odds.
The Red Sox famously bought the former college equipment manager, sight-unseen, for a dollar out of independent ball in 2008. The late bloomer then bashed his way to the big leagues two years later at age 27, launching a grand slam in the first pitch of his first at-bat before playing a key supporting role in the 2013 title.
Now closing in on his 37th birthday, Nava hasn't appeared in the majors since 2017 with the Phillies. He signed with the Pirates in 2018, but a back injury necessitated surgery, which led to an infection, and he ended up spending 18 months on the sidelines.
He made a comeback with the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association last year, hitting .288 in 71 games. That was enough to convince him he's not done, and so this week he's wandering the halls of the Manchester Grand Hyatt at baseball's winter meetings like any other job seeker, albeit one with seven years of service time and a World Series ring.
"It's a funny turn of events to bring it almost full circle to where you're doing the same thing you did at the start," Nava told NBC Sports Boston. "I remember when I sat in (Mike) Hazen's office (in 2008) and he more or less said, 'Why should we keep you?' I had to sell myself on the spot. Fortunately, I don't think it mattered what I said, because they were going to give me a shot. That's what I'm hoping for right now, is just a shot again. It's not like I haven't been here before."
Nava carved out a solid career with the Red Sox, especially given where he started. The 5-10, 195-pound switch hitter spent parts of five seasons in Boston, delivering some memorable hits along the way. In addition to the grand slam off of Philly's Joe Blanton in his debut, he also blasted the game-winning homer vs. the Royals in the emotionally charged return to Fenway after the Marathon bombings in 2013.
"No one saw that team coming," Nava said. "We knew how good we were in that clubhouse, but I don't think anyone outside that clubhouse, especially after that previous season, saw it. We knew we had something special."
Nava said he's fully recovered from the discectomy that sidelined him for all of 2018 and half of 2019. He might have retired to his offseason home in Nashville, but those 71 games of independent ball convinced him otherwise.
"I wanted to see if A, I could still do it, and then B, would a team be interested in me?" Nava said. "A was possible, and now B is what I'm here to trying to see — if I can get one more final look, one more shot."
He's representing himself on this mission alongside fellow independent leaguer Shawn O'Malley, a Kansas City resident and 31-year-old former utilityman with the Angels and Mariners who hustled to San Diego directly from a wedding two hours outside Atlanta to pitch a comeback of his own.
"I do have an agent," Nava said. "But I need to do this in person, so teams can see that physically I'm not dead."
Nava said he has reached out via text to contacts in multiple organizations, including the Red Sox. As if on cue, a member of the team's video staff stopped Nava in the lobby to wish him well.
"More or less text communication, nothing face to face," he said. "Obviously a return back to where everything started would be meaningful, but I understand how this business works."
And to that end, he's willing to start all over in the minors, if that's what it takes, and bring this journey full circle.
"I want a shot," he said. "And I'll take whatever — and I mean whatever — I can get. I'm not going to be a veteran who says, 'How dare I go to the minor leagues?' Having been in a position like this so many years ago, it brings me back to that point of just having a hunger and a desire to want to play, and that's where I'm at right now."
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