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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