There are eight flat screen televisions hanging in the palatial and spacious Cincinnati Reds clubhouse, seven of them usually tuned in to baseball games or football games on Saturdays and Sundays.
The eighth TV is directly in front of catcher Dioner Navarro’s locker and it is always tuned in to a soccer match from somewhere around the world.
And Navarro sits in front of his locker wearing a red soccer jersey with his baseball number, 30, on the back under his nickname, ‘Navi,’ which he wears under his baseball jersey during games.
Does he like soccer?
“No, I love it,” he said. “I’m a humongous fan. Did I play it? Never. Too much running. I just like watching all that running they do because I can’t run. My father always had the Spanish games on TV and I became a huge Barcelona fan.”
As a catcher, Navarro isn’t much required to use his legs and he gets to use his hands to swing a potent baseball bat.
Navarro is one of the more fortuitous acquisitions made this season by general manager Walt Jocketty.
Navarro played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, but was batting only .193 when he was released in late August. Jocketty signed him for the Reds in January and fans wondered, “Why? Won’t the catchers be veteran Ryan Hanigan and rookie/No. 1 draft pick Devin Mesoraco?”
Yes, they were. And Navarro was sent to Class AAA Louisville. Hanigan was spectacularly efficient, but Mesoraco was a spectacular disappointment.
Navarro was called up August 4 and Mesoraco disappeared — still on the roster, still in the dugout, but mostly unused.
Navarro, an All-Star for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 when he hit .295, returned to All-Star form, a useful No. 2 catcher and an important switch-hitting bat off the bench.
He is hitting .291 and over a one week span he had a game-winning walk-off triple against the Dodgers at home, and drove in the final run Tuesday during a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’m enjoying myself. It has been great after a long road for me,” said the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Venezuelan. “I’m just trying to help the team win in any way I can.”
Of his demotion to the minors after spring training, he said, “It has been like that in baseball for 100 years. Yes, I wondered what was going to happen and I got sent to the minors. But I did my job, did what I was supposed to do and I finally got the opportunity to be here.”
He not only seized the moment, he seized the rest of the season and will be on the 25-man postseason roster.
“I’m so glad for the opportunity they gave me,” he said. “I played good for Tampa Bay but not so good in Los Angeles, so it is what it is. A business. Once you understand how it works, it’s easier to accept.
“I’m just glad I got the opportunity here because the Reds are a great organization and I try to chip in when I can. You know, when one door closes, another opens.
“They called my agent over the winter and it was the best offer I had,” he said. “I knew pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jose Arredondo from playing against them in winter ball. I was just trying to get another chance and this was the organization that was going to give it to me. It wasn’t disappointing.” Navarro also has postseason appearance, advancing to the World Series with the 2008 Rays, so he’ll bring experience to the Reds for postseason play.
“The biggest thing is to keep it simple,” he said. “I’ve been there and know what it takes. It’s the same game — nine players, 27 outs. Don’t speed up the game. It is already too fast to let it speed up on you in the postseason. Take it one out of a time and that’s the big key for everybody to get to the goal we want to get, a World Series ring.”