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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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Kurt Suzuki finds himself in surprising spot of headline maker

Kurt Suzuki finds himself in surprising spot of headline maker

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Kurt Suzuki will turn 37 years old while in a major-league uniform if the Nationals play October baseball again this season. This is year 14 and the second stop with one of four teams he’s played for. Suzuki spent time in the American League,
 then the National League, then back to the AL before a return to the NL. He’s well-traveled.

Which makes the headlines cooking with his name all the stranger to him. Following comments to The Washington Post that the Houston Astros were using a whistling system to steal signs in the 2019 World Series, Suzuki’s name was hurled to the front of the cross-player sniping currently pervasive in Major League Baseball. Houston’s Carlos Correa transitioned to specifically talk about Suzuki on Saturday when he rumbled through a session with Astros writers. Sunday, Suzuki conducted his own group session, something he was partly in disbelief about, and something he doesn’t want to keep occurring. 

“Honestly, I’m too old to get in the middle,” Suzuki said. “I really don’t associate myself with this kind of stuff. I just kind of go about my business and try to stay out of everything and get ready to play baseball. That’s what it’s about -- playing baseball.”

Suzuki’s steady answers Sunday inside the Nationals’ clubhouse focused on two ideas: he’s enjoying the World Series and preparing for 2020. Suzuki stopped short of saying “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” but that was the general tenor after he politely agreed to talk with reporters despite being self-aware enough to realize the topic.

“I thought you guys were going to talk about the 1-for-20 in the World Series,” Suzuki joked.

He made the same joke with teammates before heading to meet the media. He was asked where that “one” landed.

“Train tracks.”

Suzuki joined Yan Gomes, pitching coach Paul Menhart, Davey Martinez and others in devising a multi-tiered system to protect signs against the Astros in the World Series. Suzuki did not say Sunday he knew the Astros were cheating in the World Series. 

“You hear stuff around the league,” Suzuki said. “All you do is you do your due diligence and you try to prepare yourself to not get into that situation. We just did our homework on our end and did everything we possibly can to combat the rumors going around and we just prepared ourselves. That was the bottom line: just getting ready for it if it did happen.”

His session of diffusement ended with a nod to Max Scherzer’s comments from when spring training began. Scherzer bounced back questions about the Astros by advising reporters to go talk to them. 

“That’s their situation,” Suzuki said. “I think Scherzer said it best. They are the ones that have to do the answering. We’re just getting ready for the 2020 season to defend the title. That’s it. We’re getting ready, enjoying our teammates, enjoying the World Series and getting ready for the season.”

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Everyone notices when Victor Robles arrives at spring training

Everyone notices when Victor Robles arrives at spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The double doors from the field into the Nationals clubhouse pushed open Saturday morning, and in strode Victor Robles.

He was dressed mostly in black, his preferred thin hoodie up over his head, big gold watch on his wrist, and general mojo bursting about. Robles made announcements in Spanish and English. He provided hugs for most. Not long after walking in, he ended up in one of his common reclining positions, this one inside a mobile laundry basket, folded like an overgrown kid in a shopping cart. Robles laying on the floor with his legs on a folding chair while burning through his phone will come later.

The clubhouse was sparsely populated upon his arrival Saturday. He ventured down the freshly-painted hall and ended up in the manager’s office, previously existing as a serene setting. Music drifted out of the open door. A green candle passively burned. Davey Martinez, once again able to drink coffee thanks to a clean bill of health, was doing some reading.

“He just came in really loud,” Martinez said. “I said, ‘What are you doing here? I’m not supposed to see you until Monday. Come back Monday.’”

And an addition: “I love him.”

Robles was the Saturday jolt in West Palm Beach on an otherwise bleak day. Rain romped through in varied bursts. The workout was cut short, everyone packed and Washington’s side of the spring training complex receded peacefully into the afternoon after the pitchers threw. Meanwhile, their fellow residents at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches continued to tussle with the world at large.

Amid the rain, Robles wandered out to the batting cages with two bats in hand and wearing a T-shirt he manually removed the sleeves from. One of the questions -- of the few in what is a stable camp with limited open spots and decisions -- is what kind of growth will come from Robles.

Will he step forward on offense, helping to mitigate the offensive production loss from Anthony Rendon’s departure? Will he move up in the lineup if he’s more disciplined at the plate? Where is his offensive ceiling a year after he became a Gold Glove finalist in center field?

The defense is there. Robles pushed aside much of the rawness he dealt with early in the season to become one of the league’s best defensive outfielders. His lack of experience coupled with determination to run into anything in his way caused specific concern among the Nationals’ coaching staff when the team went to Wrigley Field for the first time. The message to Robles about playing in Wrigley? “The wall is brick. You will lose.”

But, this is how Robles does things; he's living an upbeat baseball life destined to crash into the ground, a pitch, the middle of chaos. His approach also influences his plate performance. Robles swings often -- almost 49 percent of the time last season -- and is swinging at pitches out of the strike zone 31.9 percent of the time. For a comparison point: Juan Soto left the zone on 23.4 percent of his swings and swings 40.8 percent of the time overall.

“If you look at Vic’s numbers in the minor leagues, his on-base percentage was actually pretty good,” Martinez said. “We’re trying to get him -- we want him to be aggressive in the strike zone and stay within himself. That’s something we talked to him last year when he left and I know that [Kevin] Long is going to harp on it this year. Be aggressive in the strike zone, take your walks.”

Robles stole 28 bases last season despite a walk percentage of 5.7 and on-base percentage of just .326. He struck out almost four times as much as he walked.

So, the room for growth exists. The need for improvement also exists because Rendon left and the gap needs to be closed somewhere. How Robles will get there is among the spring training questions. Whether he will be heard from is not.

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