The Nationals are credited with turning around their 2019 championship season on May 24, the day they began climbing out of the depths of a 19-31 start.
However, it would take a while before the team would work its way back into contention. On June 19, Washington was still just 33-38 and inclement weather had prevented them from playing for three days. To make matters worse, Max Scherzer had just broken his nose during batting practice. It still seemed like every time something went right for the Nationals, three other things went wrong.
The Philadelphia Phillies—owners of the NL’s top Wild Card spot—were in town for a three-game series, which would begin with a doubleheader forced by the recent storms. Scherzer was going to start Game 2—the “black eye game” or “broken nose game,” as it would eventually be called—but there was another significant moment for the Nationals that came in Game 1.
Gerardo Parra was struggling. After going 14-for-40 (.350) with three home runs over his first 14 games with the Nationals, the veteran outfielder stumbled into an 0-for-22 slump. He tried changing up his routine, but nothing was working. Nothing, until he got some inspiration from his two-year-old daughter.
Starting in center field, Parra stepped up to the plate for his second at-bat with a new walk-up song blaring throughout the stadium: “Baby Shark.”
“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”
Something clicked for Parra, who roped an RBI double in the fourth inning and followed it up with a solo home run in the eighth.
As if that wasn’t endearing enough for Nationals fans, Parra also threw out Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper on the basepaths to prevent Philadelphia from threatening in the sixth.
“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”
The Nationals went on to sweep the doubleheader and the series, knocking the Phillies out a playoff spot entirely. Suddenly, Washington was 36-38, third place in the NL East and just three and a half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild Card spot. It only took one series, but the Nationals’ outlook was much brighter than it was just two days prior.
Of course, “Baby Shark” didn’t go away, either. Parra kept it as his walk-up song the rest of the year, inspiring the Nationals Park crowd to shark chomp every time he came to the plate. His teammates also embraced it, using shark-inspired hand signals to celebrate base hits. A plush shark even made its way into the Nationals’ dugout. Where is it now? Some place called Cooperstown.
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Parra is credited with helping the Nationals stay loose and enjoy the game they grew up playing, even when the team was at the bottom of the standings and critics were calling for firings and blockbuster trades. He played such a big role that “Baby Shark” even made it onto the team’s World Series rings.
“I’m completely overwhelmed about the honor the Washington Nationals organization gave me in our World Champions ring we earned last season,” Parra wrote on Instagram after the ring design was unveiled. “I cannot say thanks enough to the organization and, of course, our fans, because you were the ones that made the Baby Shark song our anthem. I just feel really blessed and I want to say that I will be forever grateful for being a part of the Washington Nationals history!”
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“Baby Shark” may not be played at Nationals Park anymore—as Parra is now playing for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan—but the children’s song is always going to be tied to the Nationals’ World Series run.
Sure, May 24 gets all the hype. But June 19 did just as much to propel Washington toward its first championship in 95 years.
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