Nationals

Nationals

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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