The wacky, wonderful world of Parra has been absorbed into the organization, seemingly for the better. Washington, 55-46 entering play Thursday and second in the National League East, improved its winning percentage by 85 percentage points from the end of May through the end of June and has continued trending upward in July. Parra has become an important part of that turnaround — and not necessarily just for his statistics.
“He brings it every day. He’s full of energy, has fun,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s an unbelievable teammate, and the guys appreciate him and love him out there.”
In the two months since Parra’s second game with the Washington Nationals — in which he hit a grand slam to deliver a surprise 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in May — he has become a beloved figure with the franchise.
Parra’s teammates credit him with starting their celebratory dance line in the dugout after every home run. His coaches laud his ability to energize the team and produce when called upon. Parra even hopped on an elevator full of reporters after one home game wearing orange-tinted glasses and standing on a motorized scooter.
“You see what goes on in the dugout,” closer Sean Doolittle said after the team’s 3-1 win over the Marlins on July 3, in which Matt Adams danced hand-in-hand with Parra after the first baseman’s homer in the eighth. “And I think Gerardo Parra is a big part of that. I think he brought an energy and flair, and guys are playing loose and confident right now, and there’s something to be said for finding a way to win the game.”
The biggest test is yet to come for Parra as he looks to make the most of his one-year contract with the Nationals atop the wild-card standings and just four games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division. Parra, however, does not foresee his spirit wavering.
“We have one life,” Parra said in Spanish. “And I like transmitting that [idea] to my teammates. Thank God we’re playing ball very well. We’re all having fun, like a family, and that’s the most important thing of all. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Nationals teammate and longtime friend, pitcher Aníbal Sánchez, said Parra has been quirky and fun-loving since the two met 10 years ago when Parra played for Arizona and Sánchez played for the Marlins. The Venezuelans first competed together while playing for their country in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“When the Venezuela guys play together, you try to bring energy,” Sánchez said. “That’s the way that we play — with a lot of energy and with a lot of ambition to be in the field. And in the end, all Venezuela players, they are happy to be in the big leagues."
Henry Blanco, a Venezuelan who coached Parra in Arizona in 2011 and serves as the Nationals’ bullpen coach, said Parra brought a similar energy to the Diamondbacks and called him a guy who “changes a clubhouse.”
“You’ve got to have some energy to play this game,” Blanco said. “I mean, it’s not easy to play every day and come to the ballpark every day, but what amazes me is the extra energy he’s got. It’s unbelievable. You’ve got to be around him to feel his energy.”
Parra’s career has taken him to six teams over the past 10 years. After the Colorado Rockies bought out his contract option at the end of last season, making him a free agent entering 2019, he signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants in February. The Giants designated him for assignment in early May and the Nationals, going through a rash of injuries at the time, signed him, and he made an immediate impact.
His demeanor is the same at every stop.
“I go for a natural vibe. I’ve always been like this — joyful, happy, trying to live in the moment,” Parra said. “Always wanting to be happy.”
While it might be easy for the veteran to dwell on past or future moves, that is not in his nature: “He understands his role,” Martinez said.
Parra’s focus is on the opportunity the Nationals have now, elevated by his presence on the field and in the dugout.
“I have not thought about [after the season] at all,” Parra said. “I still feel young — I’m 32 — and I want to continue playing, and I really am not thinking about what could happen after this year. I think in the present, and think about playing because my dream is to be in the league and win a World Series.”