Daniel Nava continues to live the dream, signs with Angels

12/29/2015 6:03 AM - Devo

Daniel Nava is a World Series Champion. In 2006, undrafted out of Santa Clara University, odds are he didn't think that was possible. Eight years later he's still in the big leagues and recently signed a 1-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels for $1,375,000.

Nava’s 2006 senior season at Santa Clara University was anything but regular. He batted .395 with 37 RBI and had a .494 OBP with 1.024 OPS. Conventional wisdom suggests that those numbers would get anyone drafted. Nava didn't, but he would take an unconventional route to a place every baseball player dreams of. Never too high or too low, Nava credits his mental toughness with being able to deal with the ups and downs that come with a professional baseball career. It hasn’t been easy, but he credits determination, self-preservation, and more importantly, his faith as how he has been able to stick with this.

“I’ve found that in the craziness of this sport, of me going up and down, [faith has] been like a rock for me to fall back on. I personally believe I’m here to do more than play baseball.”

Undrafted, he was cut when he went and tried out for the Independent Chico Outlaws of the now defunct Golden Baseball League. Nava signed with the Outlaws for the '07 season and produced staggering numbers that resulted in a league MVP. Nava’s lone Indy season was historic. In 72 games he batted .371, with 12 home runs, 59 RBI, had an OBP of over .470, and slugged nearly.630. Over one-third of his 95 hits went for extra bases.

From that point on his career skyrocketed. He decimated minor league pitching never hitting below .339. Come 2010, the outfielder who hit all the time, but never got that elusive opportunity, was called up by the Boston Red Sox. He did not disappoint. On the first pitch of his first Major League at-bat, he took Joe Blanton deep for a grand slam. You couldn't write anything better. The years of grinding and sacrifice culminated in a moment Hollywood couldn't even script.

The next couple years saw him bounce back and forth from the farm team to the big club. Nava was a starter for the Red Sox in 2013 and earned a spot in the heart of Sox fans everywhere. He played in his only full season with the Sox and didn't disappoint. Splitting time in the outfield between Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, Nava belted 29 doubles, went deep 12 times, and drove in 66. His .303 batting average was second amongst starters (David Ortiz). 

Nava has not produced the same sort of numbers in the last two seasons, his role was reduced and spent most of it in the minors. His fairy tale career in Boston even came to an end when the Red Sox placed him on waivers. He was subsequently signed by their division rival Tampa Bay Rays. He appeared in 31 games for the Rays and produced very little compared to previous seasons. After refusing a minor league assignment at Triple-A Durham, he became a free agent this past November. Fortunately, Nava was not on the market too long.  

Angel fans did not get the superstar they were looking to put next to Mike Trout, but they get a player who will give his all every single game. Nava is not flashy and is not a highlight reel guy like his counterpart, instead he is someone that younger and older players can look up to.  Likely a utility player for the remaining years of his career, teammates and coaches should take advantage of someone who's been there and done that.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

 

Chris Herren continues to promote the good in everyone

12/22/2015 1:07 AM - Devo

A couple years have passed since I talked with former NBA Player Chris Herren. Over the past couple years, the words Herren speaks have taken on a life of their own. His message is heard loud and clear amongst many people and organizations all over the world. It was with great honour that I spoke with the man responsible for making "being yourself" a phenomena across schools everywhere.

The GM's Perspective: Good morning Chris, it's been some time since we last spoke, but as always, you are making differences in people’s lives. For instance, Project Purple, an initiative of The Herren Project, a non-profit foundation you have established, has taken a life of its own. What does its feel like knowing your reach is going is far as it is?

Chris Herren: It’s one of those pinch yourself deals. For me to start Project Purple four years ago because of the courage of one child in a school assembly, to announce in front of her whole class that she was sober, the result of that is now almost half a million kids involved in the program (as of last year) is just amazing. When it comes to kids, when it comes to teenagers and students, in my opinion, they want to do the right thing. I truly believe in my heart we don’t do enough for them. We don’t give them enough options to do the right thing.

GMs: Not many people, ex-athletes in general, do this. Your starting something special and it can only grow from here. It’s very commendable and every time I read about the good work that you are doing, it’s awe inspiring to say the least.

CH: It has to come from the kids and that’s the beauty of it. Project Purple is alive and well in many schools I haven’t even spoke at yet. It’s not about protection, it’s about everybody. It’s very inclusive and I think that’s something we’ve lacked over the years. We have these special groups for kids in the school, but those special groups are really for kids who don’t need it. I love the fact that when you look at pictures of student groups that have adapted Project Purple, it’s a wide variety of kids in it. It’s a mixture of athletes, and drama, and music and artists, you name it and they’re in it. That’s the beauty of it.

GMs: Speaking of reaching others, your story is widely known and I just read that the “Ocean City School District anti-drug committee" has unveiled its latest billboard using your words “It’s okay to share your struggle. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to change” What does that mean to you?

CH: Again, I’m extremely proud, grateful…I truly believe that we push our kids academically, we push them athletically, but we fail them socially. I don’t think we give them enough. Every time I speak to an auditorium of kids I have to let them know that it’s OK to talk. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to change. It’s OK that you’ve made mistakes. They just need to know that there’s a place to talk to someone about it.

GMs: In your wildest dreams, could you ever imagine the impact you have on people’s lives?

CH: No idea. To be quite honest with you, when I filmed “Unguarded”, obviously I knew it was ESPN, but I didn't take in to account that it would be played over and over again. I was totally naive of Amazon and Netflix and that it would be available on iTunes. I had no idea the reach that it could possibly have. My wife and I thought it would be a one-night deal and that would be it. It’s one of the proudest things I’ve ever done in my life. I truly believe it helped so many. Every time I travel to another state and meet people from treatment centers or people who work in the business, the tell me they play this video in our center and the patients really really identify with it. One of the best things to ever happen to me was to speak in the Maine State prison. Two years later, a mom brought her son who was in the Maine State prison, and she walked up to me and gave me a big hug and started crying. I had no idea why. She said standing right behind her was her son and he was there when you spoke in his prison. She said she had him back and he was sober ever since the day he walked out of there. It’s OK dealing with your past. And if you can convince people of that, there’s a lot of strength in struggle.

GMs: Last question. You see stories of highly publicized athletes continuing to struggle on and off the field. You recently spoke to the Los Angeles Kings, a club that has partnered with you/The Herren Project to talk to their players about drugs and alcohol abuse. Do you present any differently in front of your peers compared to students? How did they react to you coming in?

CH: My presentations to professional athletes, even college athletes, are different when compared to high school students. The same message is intertwined. I think when you focus on the damage that drugs can do, we want to show pictures and tell stories about how bad it gets and focus on the worst day. But, I think we’ve lost focus of the first day. I think if we’re really going to make any sort of progress with addiction/substance use we have to start emphasizing and focusing on the first day where it begins rather than focusing on how it ends. It’s really hard to for professional athletes to see themselves homeless in 20 years. It’s really hard for a high school student to see a needle in his arm in five. But they need and deserve to know how it begins and why it begins. Those are the two things that we have lacked over the last how many years when it relates to addiction or alcoholism.

To learn more, please check out Chris Herren's Twitter and facebook accounts as well as Project Purple's here and here.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

Notorious Conor McGregor uses psychological warfare to his advantage

12/15/2015 8:39 PM - Devo

This weekend the world witnessed "The Notorious" Conor McGregor shock the MMA world when he knocked out the legendary Jose Aldo Jr. in 13 seconds. The shocking win has netted him more than $500,000, but more than likely has shot his net worth into the stratosphere. What is even more impressive is the never ending mind games that McGregor has played against his opponent. For over the last year the new Featherweight Champion has talked and talked and talked about how he is the man, Aldo is done, and he will knock him out in the first round. Pretty strong words for someone relatively new to the MMA game. He recently spoke to GQ Magazine and as you will read, his confidence is sky high.

"AC: If you don't beat Aldo in December...

CM: [Interrupts loudly.] What? What are you talking about? I have beaten him already. He is dead. Look at his body language. His body is weak and his mind is weaker. I can smell the lack of confidence. If the mind is not in it, the body won't follow. He cannot beat me. He knows it. It's why he went running last time.

...

AC: But for all you know Aldo feels just as confident as you do.

CM: No way. I can hear it in his voice, I can see it in his eyes, I know when a man is beaten, and he is beaten mentally. I still don't think he will show. I am trying to be optimistic but I am never wrong, I always predict the outcome of my fights and I am never wrong."

Can two athletes, unquestionably, at their top of their game, lose their focus? Can a World Champion who was undefeated in the last ten years, succumb to the pressure of words? There is no real answer to that, but to experts in the field, the words exchanged tells a whole other story. Psychologist James Barraclough said the verbal battle being waged between both men could be the difference between a win and loss.

"At elite level it's mostly mental, as physical, technical and tactical aspects of the game tend to balance out. It's how fighters deal with mental factors on the night concentration, confidence and dealing with nerves, that's what it could come down to.

...

"Trash talking fighters can have a positive or negative effect depending on the person on the receiving end and how they handle it.

"It can unsettle some fighters, others can laugh it off and see through it as mind games.

"Self-confidence would be massive here. Any insecurity could cause trash talk to be more effective.

"This would probably need to be managed effectively by Aldo's team."

Did Aldo's defeat, by the man who has been unrelentless in his pursuit, happen the way it should? If you ask one fighter no, if you ask the other he'd tell you it ended just as he predicted.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

 

Vinny DiFazio has breakout season with St. Paul Saints

12/06/2015 8:26 PM - Devo

The St. Paul Saints have resigned the reigning American Association Player of the Year, Vinny DiFazio. DiFazio, who hasn't had your typical route through professional baseball, spent the majority of his career in the Texas Rangers organization. Prior to being drafted, he encountered health problems that nearly derailed his career before it got started. In the midst of his first year at the University of Alabama, DiFazio was recovering from knee surgery. During that time he also encountered pain in his shoulder, a pain he told his dad, he'd never encountered before. A trip to the doctor would change his life forever. 

Early on the medical staff suggested Lou Gehrig's disease. They had an extremely difficult time determining what was causing the pain. Prior to his knee surgery, DiFazio received a tetanus shot that was never recorded in his medical records. An adverse reaction to the shot almost ended his career.  It turned out to be Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, also known as brachial neuritis, which paralyzed him from the neck to the waist. The syndrome affects 1.64 out of 100,000 people."  Finally, after two years of rehab he returned to 'Bama and was eventually drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft. 

It really takes something special deep down to deal with a life-altering moment and come back from it. That desire to succeed has followed DiFazio on the ball field. Six years in to his professional career, he has yet to advance past High A. Significant injuries (tore oblique, broken hand, broken wrist) put his career on hold for a couple years, but thankfully Independent baseball exists. Up until 2015, DiFazio never hit higher than .278 and never hit more than 12 home runs. Finally injury free his true potential was available for all to see. In 86 games for the Saints, he hit .361 (1st in the league) with 17 home runs (fourth in the league), drove in 82 (first in the league), and compiled an OBP of 1.059. Deserving of POY honours could be a massive understatement.
 
 “Vinny had an incredible season,” said Saints Manager George Tsamis. “He came into last season competing for the starting job and ended up being Player of the Year.  He is a great leader and definitely a guy you want on your team.”
 
It's still uncertain if he will sign an MLB contract, but even If that doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world. DiFazio has been through things we can only read about. Not getting signed to a professional contract will probably motivate him to exceed everyone's expectations and make 2016 another season to remember. Gonna be tough, but he has beaten insurmountable odds before.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

 
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