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With help from Make-A-Wish, Parker Staples gave Nationals the luck they needed to overcome 19-31

With help from Make-A-Wish, Parker Staples gave Nationals the luck they needed to overcome 19-31

On a World Series-winning team, every player has a role. Some players are asked to pitch against some of the best hitters in baseball. Others are handed a bat and asked to come through in big moments.

For young Washington Nationals player Parker Staples, his role was to put smiles on his teammates’ faces—and rub off a little luck on them, too.

Parker was 10 years old last summer when the Nationals invited him to come to the ballpark and sign a contract to join the team before hanging out in the clubhouse with manager Davey Martinez, hitting in the batting cages with outfielder Adam Eaton, warming up in the bullpen with closer Sean Doolittle and throwing out the first pitch to none other than three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

“Parker and his family were awesome to interact with today,” Eaton said when Parker visited. “To be able to give a wish to a young individual that’s been through a lot throughout his life already is huge for me. To be able to see his smiling face come in—he’s eating with the boys and comes to the weight room and has a smile on his face—I think guys gravitate towards his upbeat personality.”

It had been a long two years for the then-fourth grader. On Dec. 13, 2017, Parker was diagnosed with stage 3 Burkitt’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Countless chemotherapy sessions and the loss of his hair had threatened to break his spirit, but there was one thing he could always turn to for hope and inspiration: baseball.

A travel player himself, Parker signed with the UVA baseball team in the spring of 2018 with the help of Team Impact. Just over one year and a connection with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic later, he was standing on the mound at Nationals Park in front of thousands of fans—taking quite a quick and impressive path to the majors.

The date of that game? May 24, 2019, the day the Nationals began to turn around their season.

Washington stumbled out of the gate to start the year, falling to 19-31 on the year before Parker joined the club. After Parker’s pitch, the team exploded for a 74-38 record the rest of the year. They made it into the playoffs as a Wild Card team and advanced through the first round for the first time since the team moved to D.C. in 2005.

But while the Nationals weren’t done yet, they couldn’t go any further without a little bit more help from Parker. The team invited him back to the ballpark to once again throw out the first pitch, this time for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in front of a sold-out crowd of 43,675—although for a nervous Parker, it felt like “millions.”

“It was a lot to [take] in,” Parker told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “What if I throw it and hit someone? [But] I think I did pretty good. I think it was a strike.”

The Nationals’ good luck charm came through once again. The team swept the St. Louis Cardinals to finish out the NLCS before taking down the Houston Astros in seven games to win D.C.’s first World Series since the Washington Senators won it in 1924.

When Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson struck out the Astros’ Michael Brantley to finish off the victory, Parker was watching at home with his parents and, like so many other Nationals fans, was unable to process what he was seeing.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Parker said. “I was about to cry.”

“You probably did have tears in your eyes,” Parker’s mom, Jessica, chimed in.

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Baseball is on hold for now while MLB waits for the coronavirus outbreak to get under control. It’s been difficult for programs such as Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic to grant the wishes of kids like Parker who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. The nonprofit is relying on donations to continue giving kids hope through granting wishes amid the global pandemic.

Parker, whose cancer is now in remission, may not have been the one hitting home runs off Astros starter Gerrit Cole or striking out a dozen Cardinals. But the Nationals, whose players say let him into their “circle of trust,” relied on him as much as anybody.

After all, every championship team needs a little bit of luck on its side to go all the way.

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How will MLB's new extra inning with a runner on second rule work strategically?

How will MLB's new extra inning with a runner on second rule work strategically?

Major League Baseball is going to be bizarre in 2020. A 60-game schedule. The designated hitter in the National League. No fans.

But the change a lot of baseball fans might have the toughest getting used to is the tweak to extra innings. Each team will begin each extra inning with a man on second base. The crew from the Nationals Talk podcast had differing opinions on the new rule.

“I absolutely love it,” NBC Sports Washington's Nick Ashooh said.

Team reporter Todd Dybas did not agree.

“The rule is dumb. It goes against everything that baseball is about.”

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Chase Hughes broke the tie. “I’m a no on the rule too. I’m with Todd.”

What about the strategy of starting with a man on second base? Could team's exploit or alter the ending of the previous frame to set up a new inning? 

The rule states: “The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter.”

Dybas wondered if it would be wise to end the previous inning on purpose if a speedster is at the plate with two outs.

“Would it behoove [Giants'] Billy Hamilton to make the final out? So the next inning he would start at second base?” Hamilton is a career .242 hitting but has 299 stolen bases in 809 games played. 

RELATED: COULD MORE OPT-OUTS BE COMING? 

Frustration will also be inevitable. “I can’t wait to hear from the players on the first team to lose by that rule,” Hughes said. “What are they going to say?” 

2020 has already thrown us plenty of curveballs, the changes to baseball will just be a couple more the sports world will have to adjust to. 

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Report: 6 Nationals among players MLB didn't test for COVID-19 before flight from Dominican Republic

Report: 6 Nationals among players MLB didn't test for COVID-19 before flight from Dominican Republic

One of two flights chartered by Major League Baseball from the Dominican Republic to Miami carried multiple players that tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in the U.S., The Washington Post reported Thursday evening. None of the more than 160 players and staff members were tested by MLB for the disease prior to flying.

Among the passengers on those flights—which flew out of Santo Domingo on July 1—were Nationals players Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Wander Suero and Fernando Abad as well as two of their prospects in Luis Garcia and Joan Adon. All six players are isolating in D.C. and one of them, The Post reported, tested positive for the coronavirus during intake screening July 2.

The Nationals announced Sunday that two players had tested positive upon arriving to D.C. and were in isolation. In addition to the six players who flew from the D.R., Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro and Roenis Elías were absent from practice at Nationals Park this week. Although Castro returned to the field Thursday, Washington has yet to give any updates on the remaining players not cleared for play.

RELATED: MIKE RIZZO SAYS ‘I COULDN’T LIVE WITH MYSELF IF WE WENT ON HAPHAZARDLY’

“We’re still waiting to hear about those other guys,” manager Davey Martinez said in a Zoom press conference Thursday. “But they’re working diligently, MLB and our medical staff, to get those guys cleared. Hopefully, we’ll get them soon.”

The lack of testing prior to those flights was a result of insufficient resources in the D.R. to accommodate the number of people who were to board, The Post reported. The news comes three days after the Nationals opted to cancel practice due to test results taking over 72 hours to come in. General manager Mike Rizzo issued a strong statement that afternoon stressing the importance of quick testing.

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“We cannot have our players and staff work at risk,” Rizzo wrote. “We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families.  Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp.  Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab.  Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

MLB’s 2020 season is scheduled to begin July 23, when the Nationals are set to host the New York Yankees on Opening Night.

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