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Gerardo Parra turns ‘Baby Shark’ into a rallying call

Gerardo Parra turns ‘Baby Shark’ into a rallying call

WASHINGTON -- Sean Doolittle recently finished a serious conversation about the Nationals turnaround, then had another thought.

“Parra...I don’t know if we do it without him,” Doolittle said.

Washington’s closer is unsure how to measure the value of his teammate for the last 52 games. When Parra walked into the Nationals’ clubhouse May 10 in Los Angeles, he appeared another spare part to be tested by a floundering 15-22 team. A day later, Parra hit a grand slam in a 5-2 win against the Dodgers. From there, his ebullient presence has spilled from the clubhouse, into the stands and populated the team store. The team is also 42-29 since he showed up.

This cheerful mode is not a departure for Parra. He was happy in Arizona when he debuted as a 22-year-old in 2009 and grew to a 5.7 WAR player by 2013. Parra remained jovial in Colorado for three years. When the Rockies visited Washington last week, several Colorado players came to chat with Parra who happened to be in the dugout on a FaceTime call pregame. 

Parra laughed about most things when sitting down with NBC Sports Washington in the Nationals dugout this week. 

“That’s me,” Parra said. “Try to bring positive every time to the clubhouse. It’s life. My job, your job. We have bad days. You have bad years.”

What about the song? Yes, the song, the clapping, crowd-stirring circumstance. Parra’s selection of the unshakable “Baby Shark” wasn’t intentional. An algorithm did it -- or it was ordained. 

Parra was slumping. He wanted to change his song. In the morning, his two-year-old daughter joined the long line of children charmed by the song’s relentless simplicity. Like so many parents, Parra survived “Baby Shark” on a loop. Then he went to work.

He pulled aside a clubhouse attendant to change his song. As he swiped through his phone hunting for something he liked, “Baby Shark” kept being pushed back in front of him. Finally, he gave in.

“So, every time I pick, want to move the song -- every time move it -- the “Baby Shark” coming,” Parra said. “I said, no, I don’t want “Baby Shark.” I do it like three times like that. Baby Shark coming, “Baby Shark” coming. I said, hey, do “Baby Shark”, my song for my kids, my babies.”

Parra is 32-years-old and has not caused a stadium-wide stir previously. He didn’t anticipate doing here in the District, where his walkup-song choice and astonishing OPS with runners in scoring position (1.314 in Washington) have produced kind of midseason phenomenon as the Nationals pulled out of their desultory start.

“It’s amazing right now,” Parra said. “I’m happy because I see the kids happy, it’s more important. Because that’s the baseball. You have to be happy. You have to be relaxed. Just want to say thank you for the support...it’s amazing. Everything that the fan’s feeling, I’m feeling too. I appreciate that.”

The effect of Parra’s usage of “Baby Shark” has trickled from the stadium and into homes. Davey Martinez’s granddaughter recently attended a game. Parra came to the plate. She was enthralled -- eyes widening at the redundant sound of his walk-up song. When Martinez went home, she said, “Papa, Baby Shark.” Martinez knew the drill. He sat down and spent a chunk of his evening away from the park surviving the loop.

Aníbal Sánchez is stationed next to Parra in the clubhouse. They have partnered in many of Parra’s upbeat endeavors, from wearing colorfully tinted sunglasses (Parra has three pairs, Sánchez asked for one, so there they are in the dugout), to the post-homer dugout dance party. 

All of this because Parra failed in San Francisco earlier this season. Washington called shortly after and he didn’t hesitate.

“I say, ‘OK,’ I don’t want to wait for another team,” Parra said.

So, he packed for Los Angeles, walked into the clubhouse, then hit a grand slam a day later. An irrepressible song eventually followed him to the plate, then into the merchandise and marketing departments. There’s an old saying about this: you can’t predict baseball.

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Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Carter Kieboom has not joined the Nationals for their on-field workouts yet. But, he does have a job assignment.

Davey Martinez said Saturday that Kieboom will be the team’s full-time third baseman when the season starts. The position was previously a competition between the rookie and veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera in spring training.

“As of right now, yes, I anticipate in a 60-game season, he’s going to go out there and play every day,” Martinez said of Kieboom.

The decision answers one of the largest questions of the offseason for the defending World Series champions. Their managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, said they could not afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. So, they paid Strasburg and not Rendon. He signed with Anaheim.

Josh Donaldson was a high-end free agent they could have paid to play third base. He signed a four-year, $92 million contract with Minnesota. Trade rumors were also attached to Chicago’s Kris Bryant and Seattle’s Kyle Seager.

RELATED: WHAT DOES A SHORTENED SEASON MEAN FOR KIEBOOM?

None of that happened. The Nationals instead entered spring training with a question about who would replace Rendon, an MVP finalist in 2019, someone the organization drafted, developed and played for seven years, and the central figure in their offense. They needed a replacement and settled on Kieboom.

The 22-year-old’s brief, 11-game stint in the major leagues did not go well last season. He compiled -1.0 bWAR in barely two weeks. He struggled defensively at shortstop and produced an OPS-plus of 24 at the plate. However, the sample size is minuscule.

Washington has a history of playing its top prospects consistently under Mike Rizzo. Bryce Harper and Juan Soto were those the organization deemed ready at a young age, so they brought them up and put them in the field for good. The same idea follows Kieboom into the short season.

Kieboom started nine games at third base for Triple-A Fresno late last season. He made four errors. He played in 14 of the 17 spring training games before baseball slammed to a stop this year. Kieboom made three errors in 10 starts at third base then. It’s an alarming rate. That’s a 49-error full season. Rendon made 53 errors in seven seasons playing third base (729 starts).

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“The biggest thing for him was obviously his defense,” Martinez said. “We feel that he’s going to hit here. One thing when he left, [Tim Bogar] and Chip [Hale] talked to him about his footwork and really honing in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he’s going to throw at all times. I know he’s been working out. He’s hit tons. I know he’s faced live pitching and [was] trying to keep in shape the best he can and trying to do baseball activities as much as he can.”

Kieboom is expected to join the group workouts in Nationals Park on Sunday. When the season starts, he will be standing at third base, a legacy spot within the organization first held by Ryan Zimmerman then Rendon. Even in a short year, Kieboom will be compared to the person he is replacing, though he would argue there is no comparison.

“I’m not here to fill [Anthony Rendon's] shoes,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington in February. “That guy, in every category possible -- baseball, clubhouse, off the field, family, he checks all the boxes. He does it. He’s a special player. That’s not my job, to fill his shoes. My job’s to be myself, do what I can. Control what I can control.

“There’s going to be expectations of course. There’s going to be comparisons to what I do versus what Tony does. But that just comes with the job. That comes with anything when somebody as great as he is leaves, and joins another team and somebody needs to come in and fill the spot. I wouldn’t even say I’m replacing him. I don’t -- he’s not replaceable. But I’m here to fill a spot, take care of business, play my game and go from there.”

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Freddie Freeman and three other Braves have tested positive for the coronavirus

Freddie Freeman and three other Braves have tested positive for the coronavirus

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Braves four-time All-Star Freddie Freeman, reliever Will Smith and two teammates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Manager Brian Snitker said Saturday the four players, including right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma, agreed to have the team disclose their positive tests.

Snitker said Freeman had a negative intake test before having a positive test on Friday. Snitker said the first baseman has a fever and "is not feeling great."

"It will be a while before we can get him back," Snitker said of Freeman.

RELATED: WHO IN SPORTS HAS TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS

Major League Baseball has scheduled the 60-game season to start on July 23. Freeman is the biggest star in the sport so far to have his positive virus test publicly announced by his team.

The 30-year-old Freeman set career highs with 38 home runs and 121 RBIs last season in helping Atlanta win its second straight NL East title.

The Braves signed Smith, the former Giants reliever, to a three-year, $39 million deal in the offseason.

Snitker said Smith and Toussaint have no symptoms. He said Kozma, who is working with top minor leaguers at the team's Triple-A Gwinnett facility, has a fever.

Snitker also said first base coach Eric Young Sr., 53, has opted out of for the season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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