This past Friday, in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the San Francisco Giants’ three left-handed relievers came to a stunning realization. Derek Holland and Will Smith lounged on one of the black leather “L” couches and Tony Watson stood behind them, all eyes trained at the clubhouse’s only TV not showing an NFL Network rerun of Super Bowl XLVII, when Baltimore beat San Francisco.
This TV played highlights from the NBA Finals, which had started the night before with the underdog Toronto Raptors beating the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in Game 1.
“Who has the Raptors?” Watson said to no one in particular. He meant from the Giants’ 16-player NBA playoffs pool the team had started before Round 1 began in mid-April.
“Gerardo,” Holland sighed. He meant Gerardo Parra, the utility outfielder the Giants had designated for assignment in early May, the one who’d gone on to become a savior of the Washington Nationals’ offense.
Smith laughed and shook his head.
“No way,” Watson said. He stared straight ahead. “Damn.”
Almost a week later, on Thursday, Parra woke up feeling as hopeful as ever about his prospects because, the previous night, the Raptors had defeated the depleted Warriors to take a 2-1 series lead. Asked how he liked his chances to win the pool, even before Game 3, Parra grinned.
“A lot,” he said. “I feel positive every time. It’s the game. You never know what will happen."
For the Nationals outfielder, this looked like it could become a dream ending to a happy accident. When his Giants teammates first asked if he wanted in on the pool, Parra declined. Later, though, pitcher Dereck Rodriguez circled back and said the group had 15 entrants and no one else wanted in.
“I don’t want to,” Parra said, laughing now. “But then [they only needed one], so okay, I’ll play.”
Parra, who has made nearly $47 million in his career, said he threw in $500 to complete the $8,000 pot. He had the second-to-last pick of the crumpled-up pieces of paper that were used for the draw. Growing up in Venezuela, Parra had been a fan of the Chicago Bulls and their ubiquitous superstar, Michael Jordan, but now he rooted for the Warriors because he liked the play of star point guard Steph Curry. He was disappointed the Warriors were off the board — Smith had picked them — because he believed, like many others, that they would win their fourth championship in the past five seasons.
Parra drew the Raptors. He didn’t know much about the team, other than that they had traded for star forward Kawhi Leonard in the offseason in a push to go from Eastern Conference contender to legitimate NBA title threat. But he figured he had as decent a chance as anyone who didn’t have the Warriors. On April 14, the day after the playoffs started, VegasInsiders.com gave the Raptors 15-1 odds, fourth-best in the NBA, to win the title.
“My team is Golden State, but right now, I’m the Raptor guy,” he said. “I want to make some money.”
Parra didn’t follow closely at first. The Raptors, the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, lost Game 1 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. Then, though, they won the next four games to advance. In the middle of the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, a trendy Finals pick, the Giants designated Parra for assignment and ate $338,724 in the veteran’s salary, according to Spotrac. In 97 plate appearances with San Francisco, the 32-year-old had a .198 batting average, one home run and six RBI. Parra rejected the assignment, elected to become a free agent and signed with the Nationals on May 9.
Three days later, hours after Parra broke up a Los Angeles Dodgers no-hit bid in the eighth inning, he watched Leonard’s buzzer-beating, rim-bouncing shot beat the 76ers in Game 7. Toronto had his full attention.
In the conference finals, the Raptors faced the Milwaukee Bucks, the East’s top seed and the overwhelming favorite. Milwaukee had won eight of nine games en route to this matchup and had the player many considered the best on the court in forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors lost the first two games of the series but then contained Antetokounmpo and captured the next four games to win the series.
Before the Finals began, Parra texted Smith to let him know that just because he was no longer with the Giants it didn’t mean he had forgotten. He remembered sending: “I am in the final. I know that."
Parra understood the odds were against him now in a way they hadn’t been before. This was a long shot. So he proposed a no-lose scenario to Smith. Let’s split the pot, he said, and we’ll both get $4,000 no matter who wins. Smith rejected the deal.
A week ago, the decision disappointed Parra. Not anymore.