RUNNING SOUTH from San Francisco to San Jose, there is a storied stretch of Highway 101, connecting, among other landmarks, Candlestick Park, where Willie Mays once roamed; Stanford University, home to 19 living Nobel laureates; San Mateo, where Tom Brady grew up; and global headquarters for Apple and Google. At one end sits the Golden Gate Bridge, gateway to the City by the Bay, at the other lies Silicon Valley, cradle of America’s technology revolution. Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava has deep roots here. He knows this territory as intimately as he does Fenway Park’s right-field corner. It’s where he learned to play baseball and where, as an undersized teenager with more heart than raw physicality, he became determined to see how far that ability might take him. Or not.
Before he was a Red Sox, Nava was a Lancer (at St. Francis High School in Mountain View), a Bulldog (College of San Mateo), and a Bronco (Santa Clara University). Two things he never was, though, were a phenom or a prospect. Because the now 30-year-old switch-hitting Nava seemingly emerged from nowhere to become a bona fide Major Leaguer, and because the Red Sox have rebounded in the 2013 season from underachieving malcontents to embraceable pennant-chasers, even casual fans know something about Nava’s improbable journey and how it represents one of baseball’s all-time-best Horatio Alger stories.