'Tournament Gary': CMU two-way star Garrett Navarra peaks in postseason

Junior outfielder, Garrett Navarra, positioning himself to steal second during the double header against NUI, Sunday, April 10.

There’s Gary, there’s ‘Scary Gary,’ and then there’s ‘Tournament Gary.’

The first describes Central Michigan junior two-way player Garrett Navarra in his natural state. ‘Scary Gary,’ is Navarra when the bat gets going. 

‘Tournament Gary,’ though, is what his teammates call him when the lights come on. When the Chippewas enter the postseason, Navarra is becoming notorious for hitting an exceptional second wind that puts the air in the tires of a Chippewa wagon that just finished a roll through the Mid-American Conference tournament. 

Navarra earned MAC tournament most valuable player honors for his performance May 25-28. During a stretch of five games, the Sterling Heights native hit .500 with two home runs and eight runs batted in. He also earned two wins on the mound, including a sterling nine-strikeout performance in a must-win game against Ball State. 

This follows his performance in the NCAA Tournament last season, in which he hit two home runs and drove in three runs over four games while recording a win in an elimination game against Connecticut. 

That’s 'Tournament Gary,' and he’s coming back for more as CMU prepares to take on Florida in the first game of the NCAA Regional at 6:30 p.m. Friday. 

“Tournament Gary is something crazy,” said second baseman Mario Camilletti. “Last year in the regional, kid went crazy. And then this year, it’s just tournament Gary.” 

Camilletti and Navarra have a bond dating back to their days together at Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights. When the former was a senior, he batted third in the order — one spot behind the junior Navarra. 

The two became close there, growing closer years later when Camilletti made the decision to transfer to CMU in 2021. Over time, Camilletti has seen his teammate grow from a lanky left-handed thrower into the two-way competitor that Navarra is now. 

“We’ve been buddies for a while now,” Camilletti said. “We were on the same summer team growing up. He’s come a long way. He was a little lefty that was throwing 81, 83 in high school. Now, he’s just naturally a stud.” 

After entering the 2022 season with momentum, Navarra began the year struggling. He allowed seven runs in his first appearance, a loss to Coastal Carolina, then nine in a loss to UMass-Lowell. 

He soon settled into a groove on the mound but couldn’t at the plate. On April 10 against Northern Illinois, he went 0-for-3 and his batting average dropped to .145. With the emergence of sophomore outfielder Drew Lechnir, Navarra’s at-bats started to shrink. 

Yet, back-to-back two-hit outings in wins over Oakland and Bowling Green started the ascent of that average. Though he would hit in just two of four-game sets with Bowling Green and Akron, his average had risen back to .228 after the final game against the Zips. 

‘Scary Gary,’ was back. 

A month after the series with Akron, his slash line is now .248/.391/.408. On the mound, he’s now 7-2 with a 4.92 earned run average and has won his last four starts.

Navarra has regained his groove and figures to be an important piece during CMU’s tournament run. 

“Obviously, he's had a pretty good year on the mound,” said coach Jordan Bischel. “But if you look at his early season, he really struggled at the plate, he basically struggled the whole time which was shocking. He was our four hitter last year on a 40-win team, but just never settled into a groove. We always felt like he was swinging the bat a little bit better than the results. But when we had a few guys playing well, it kind of took him out of the lineup at times. And man, he just kept sticking with it. 

Once we got into that tournament setting, you know, you just kind of sense that this guy steps up when the chips are down. And so we got him in the lineup every game and obviously found twice and you just can't say enough good things.”