As much as technology has been the enemy in baseball in recent weeks, the Nationals hope it becomes an aid to keep last year’s vibe cooking.
Aníbal Sánchez tested it out at Winterfest, the 2020 group’s first large assembling, in order to import Gerardo Parra’s beaming bubbliness. There he was on FaceTime, giggling, smiling and with a sore but colorful forearm.
He won’t be in West Palm Beach at the team’s spring training facility. He won’t be on the 25-man roster. He won’t be on the field at Nationals Park this year -- probably. Throwing out the first pitch is something he’s interested in. But logistics are not on his side.
Parra is off to Japan after an immediate offer from the Yomiuri Giants following the World Series. He circled back with Mike Rizzo first because he wanted to return. His conversation with Rizzo convinced him to take the offer in Japan -- more playing time, more money, more marketing -- though he still hopes to return to the major leagues before he is done with baseball.
“I love playing everyday,” Parra told NBC Sports Washington. “That’s more important for me.”
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So, a void exists among the team’s ministers of fun. Parra’s scooter is parked somewhere else, its horn finally silent and wheels stopped. His body is across the globe, which makes the Nationals wonder how his aura can persist in the clubhouse. If you can’t explain it, and can’t intentionally manufacture it, how do you bottle it? Such is the complication of chemistry.
“I talked to Aníbal: please don’t lose the emotion, don’t lose the good feelings we have right now in the clubhouse because that’s good for me,” Parra said. “I think that’s more important to me. We worked a lot to do that. Don’t lose that. That’s the only thing I want to say to my teammates because that’s good when you come into the clubhouse and feel everybody happy and feel like a family.
“I put alerts in my phone because when those guys win I want to wake up or be ready and happy in that moment. I want to be there, too. The FaceTime. I want to be there. I’ll be ready for that.”
Strapped to his left forearm no matter his location is a forever reminder of 2020. Parra’s tattoo commemorating the World Series win and his accompanying “Baby Shark” cultural pop took 11 hours to sink into his skin. The effort is replete with the World Series trophy and smiley face wearing his preferred tinted glasses. His former teammates sent the image around to each other. The idea was hatched once the Nationals made the playoffs: Parra declared then he would receive the tattoo if they won the World Series.
“A whole forearm tat,” Max Scherzer said. “That’s pretty aggressive.”
“That’s aggressive,” Trea Turner said.
“It looks really cool,” Sean Doolittle said.
The tattoo’s existence reminds of Parra’s all-in approach. He wasn’t cheery half the time, or only when things were going well. His ecstatic-to-be-here vibe was close to perpetual. A slump at the plate temporarily dented it. A conversation with Davey Martinez brought it back to life. Now, it’s gone.
“I think it’s important we brought so many of those [other] guys back because I think our biggest strength last year might have been the chemistry in the clubhouse,” Doolittle said. “Last year was so special because everything in the clubhouse came together so organically. It wasn’t like Parra chose “Baby Shark” because he thought the fans would latch on to it and it would become a thing. He was just doing his own thing because he wanted to change his luck.”
Doolittle’s reference of a nearly full roster repeat came up when others addressed the topic of Parra’s absence. Sánchez referenced it. Scherzer referenced it. On and on.
“The core of this team’s still back,” Scherzer said. “And we can all look each other in the eyes and know when it counts, we can all count on each other and we’re a bunch of winners. I think [the chemistry] is just going to breed itself. We’re going to face a tremendous amount of challenges this year coming into it, but it’s going to be what it takes in the clubhouse to respond to it. And that’s what we play the game for. It’s going to be a challenge and we’re up for it.”
Even Parra agrees. He will be watching from Japan while 14 hours in the future, and talking on Sánchez’s phone, and continuing to counter modern concepts in baseball. Math despised the Nationals for much of last season. Yet, they won the World Series and attribute much of the outcome to chemistry, an unpalatable concept to a computer.
“I don’t think the guys will lose that,” Parra said. “Because other guys on that team love winning. When you have a guy play baseball to win, the guy he can’t lose that. I promise you these guys to the playoffs again too because these guys have a great heart.”
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