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World Series breakthrough all the sweeter for Nationals who were part of past failures

World Series breakthrough all the sweeter for Nationals who were part of past failures

WASHINGTON — In years past, Bob Henley would retreat to the sanctity of his backyard in Grand Bay, Alabama, a miniature town about 30 miles southwest of Mobile. 

He couldn’t shake the feeling in his stomach which took root in 2012, 2014, 2016 or 2017 — in particular the internal boiling after the outcomes of ‘12, ‘16 and ‘17. 

Henley would go out back to a swing and sit by himself. He thought about the season from front to end — mostly the end — letting the Nationals’ failures course through him. What could have been better? What went wrong? What can be fixed next season? 

Turn the page? Maybe in February.

“It wasn’t one of those where after a couple days you washed it off and move on,” Henley said. “No. ...It hurts. The goal every year in February is to try to win the division, get to the playoffs and have a chance at something special, win a National League pennant and get to the World Series. When it doesn’t happen, it’s heartbreaking. It’s not just something you can take a pill for and it goes away. It hurts. It hurts because there’s so many people involved. You want the players to reap the benefits of it and ownership, the front office and the minor leagues and the fans most of all.”

Henley, part of the organization since its days in Montreal, sipped his beer Tuesday as he thought it through. To his right was chaos. A handful of the core players who also felt those failures were currently covered in alcohol. They danced, drank, protected themselves with goggles and head gear. Max Scherzer sometimes walked aimlessly, no part of his body dry. Stephen Strasburg picked up the National League Championship trophy and drank from it. Trea Turner carried a tequila-filled container. Ryan Zimmerman enjoyed the beer. Anthony Rendon...was relaxed Anthony Rendon.

They all made it. The length of journey and totality of heartbreak to reach this point varied. Henley worked for Montreal in 2003 before coming to the District. Zimmerman was drafted and began playing for lousy teams in 2005. Rendon was not around for 2012, though he participated in the other three postseason ejections. He hit .150 in the 2016 NLDS then .176 in 2017. He hit .414 in the two series this postseason. Strasburg was shutdown in 2012 and dominant in 2019. This was Turner’s third time in the postseason across just five years in the major leagues.

Once it was over, Davey Martinez delivered a quote while on the platform in the middle of the field: “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. This is a beautiful place.” The crowd roared at his microcosm of the season. But, the statement had wider meaning for Scherzer and the others.

Scherzer came to Washington on a $210 million gamble by the Lerner family. He encountered a long list of “No” before the Lerners said “Yes” to his request for a seven-year contract. This is the fifth year. He’s finished in the top five of Cy Young voting every year, winning twice. He’s been a 6.5 fWAR player on average since arriving. He is, as Aníbal Sánchez said Tuesday, a “hyper person.” And maybe all those things led to his flood of rejoice Tuesday when pointing out the bad times made this good one better.

“It completely does,” Scherzer said. “Because baseball is such a cruel sport sometimes. We played some really good games against some really good teams. We’ve laid it on the line. Those past teams were really good and we’ve come up just an inch short so many times. I’ve been a part of that and been on the losing end and it’s just a gut punch every single time. When we can finally do it, and the way we handled business against the Brewers and Dodgers and Cardinals — just great, great ball clubs in the National League — to finally punch through, man, it’s just an ultimate feeling you can’t describe.”

Turner said it’s a situation he dreamed about. Rendon wondered if flopping in the past made this unlikely burst possible. Zimmerman considered it a cumulative effect — keep knocking, keep kicking, eventually the door opens, even if late.

“It’s definitely a culmination of a lot of guys who have been here,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through. But they say you learn from your failures. All those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight even though they’re not here. This organization has come a long way.”

A long line of photos of former players and managers hang on both sides of the hallway outside the clubhouse. Jim Riggleman stands with a bat on his shoulder, Dusty Baker smiles wide with a toothpick pointed at the camera, Rafael Soriano pulls his jersey up, Jayson Werth is shaggy, Tanner Roark is coming to the plate, the list goes on and on. 

They never made it. They never stood soaked in the clubhouse after sweeping the NLCS. Scherzer did. Strasburg did. Rendon did. Turner did. Zimmerman did. Henley did.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in that wow, we’re going,” Henley said. “The whole organization, the city of D.C., we’re going to the World Series.”

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Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

Gerardo Parra is gone, but will never be forgotten

There was a down time for Gerardo Parra. His non-stop bubbliness lost some perk once he entered a month-long slump. Parra did not ride his scooter into the clubhouse with the same joy. His work in the dugout during games dialed back to enthusiastic, living below his usual level of a rocket being launched into a volcano. He wasn't himself. So, Davey Martinez called him into the manager’s office.

“I sat with him. I said, what's going on?’” Martinez said during the postseason. “He said, ‘I don't know, I'm not doing good.’ And I go, ‘And?’ And he looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Your job is to bring the energy every day. I don't care if you're 2 for 100. Bring the energy. Play that music, get loud, and have fun. Have fun.'

“He said, you're right, and he went back and started playing music, having fun. Lo and behold, he went on a tear again, and he comes back in my office, and he said, you know, I kind of forgot what it was like to just be myself. And I said, exactly. So I don't ever want to see you do that again, you know? You're another heartbeat of this team. It's not just about you, it's about everybody else. Like I said, 2 for 100, you've got to be yourself.”

Parra being himself turned into one of the grand storylines of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series season. His daily arrival was stirring, like someone tossed a bag of sunshine into the clubhouse. His scooter-propelled entrances included horn-blowing and extra laps and what-the-hell-is-this-guy-doing smiles. Often, he wore blacked-out sunglasses when circling the clubhouse, darting right back to the training area, then pulling a u-turn to zip through the other side of the clubhouse and past the dining room before an abrupt halt at his locker.

Parra’s next stop -- scooter inclusion to be determined -- is Japan. He signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants late Tuesday, the team announced. His departure ends arguably the most memorable, non-quantifiable, pervasive bit player show in organization history. It’s 2020 on-field impact is nil.

“When Gerardo Parra joined the team, something happened,” managing principal owner Mark Lerner said during the postseason. “Whatever it was, it was magic.”

Parra caused Freddie Freeman’s bewilderment. His presence led to a stadium-full of adults -- by age -- clapping along to a child’s song which included lyrics and a beat never to be extracted from one’s skull once heard. His father sat at Parra’s locker on the red cushion of a folding chair in his “Papa Shark” T-shirt. Even founding principal owner Ted Lerner, a 94-year-old man of business and sternness, paused to mention the “Baby Shark” situation at the team’s parade. 

“I want to say a special word to the veterans on this team: from now on, you can call me, ‘Grandpa Shark.’”

Max Scherzer cackled.

Parra’s May 11 grand slam in Los Angeles was one of the few palatable points in the month and indicative of his ability in big spots. He finished the season with a 1.117 OPS with runners in scoring position. 

Late in the year, Scherzer said the team had an “it factor.” Asked how he knew, he couldn’t explain. “You just know it when you see it.” This stance applied to Parra because moments became his.

The pop culture surge of his song choice -- a result of his daughter’s relentless listening and an attempt at slump-breaking -- put Parra in front of cameras all season. A television hit on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” was part of his media rounds. Afterward, he beamed. 

Parra, born in Venezuela, went back to the clubhouse to describe his success. “I nailed it,” he said. He went on to tout the quality of his English during the segment. It was so good, he thought a name change was necessary.

“My name is no more Gerardo, it's Gerard,” Parra told Martinez.

Martinez’s reaction?

“You can't be serious. You've got to laugh at him, but he was dead serious. And he started going around the clubhouse saying, ‘You call me Gerard from now on.’ Whatever.”

Gerardo, Gerard, the song, the scooter, the smiles and rose-colored glasses are off to Japan. Staying is a legacy of fun, which won't go away.

 

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The best moments Gerardo Parra, 'Baby Shark' took over Nationals Park in 2019

The best moments Gerardo Parra, 'Baby Shark' took over Nationals Park in 2019

Baseball's viral sensation Gerardo Parra, of World Series and "Baby Shark" fame, signed with Japan's Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday.

Parra will always be remembered by Washington and baseball fans alike for his cheery personality, but more importantly for the phenomenon he started at Nationals Park during the Nats' 2019 campaign and subsequent World Series victory. 

It started back in June, when Parra first changed his walkup song to "Baby Shark." After that, it only grew.

By the end of July, Nationals Park had gotten the hint and the path to the eventual World Series premiere of "Baby Shark" had begun.

Here's a video from just two days later, when Parra stepped in to pinch-hit.

Then, after Parra had a clutch grand slam on Sept. 28, which helped the Nationals secure the home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card, Washington finally made it to the NLCS and "Baby Shark" took over Nationals Park in the first divisional championship series game at the satdium.

Here's another angle from Game 3 of the NLCS. The sound of the shark chomps is deafening in this video from the same night.

And finally, the moment we all hoped would come: "Baby Shark" takes on the World Series.

Game 3

Game 4

Game 5

And, finally, the last "Baby Shark" in Nationals Park, possibly ever, at the Game 7 watch party.

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