Parra explained he felt down because he was struggling. Parra, at one point this season, went through a 3-for-53 stretch. Martinez dismissed the numbers and told his utility player to buck up. Parra had brought fun back to the clubhouse, a spirit that helped transform the team. The manager needed that as much as his bat or glove.
“Your job is to bring the energy every day,” Martinez said. “I don’t care if you’re 2 for 100. Bring the energy. Play that music. Get loud and have fun.”
“You’re right,” Parra answered, and he left the office and continued the antics that nudged the Nationals on a storybook run to the franchise’s first World Series title.
On Wednesday, three weeks after winning the championship, the Nationals got a dose of reality. The Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball announced they had signed the veteran outfielder. Parra will get a guaranteed $2 million this season plus a $500,000 bonus, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Washington Post. The deal also has a vesting option for 2021 worth $3 million.
Parra is the first piece of the Nationals’ title team to depart in what could be an offseason of turnover. The team has 12 more free agents from this past season’s 40-man roster, including key players such as starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, third baseman Anthony Rendon and infielder Howie Kendrick. On Wednesday, ahead of the deadline to protect minor league players from the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals added pitcher Ben Braymer to their 40-man roster. That means the 25-year-old cannot be chosen by another team in the Rule 5 draft come December. Braymer pitched to mixed results across Class AA and AAA in 2019. It has otherwise been a slow start to the offseason for Washington.
Parra’s departure raises two key questions. The first is what will this team’s identity be in 2020? The second is about how the Nationals will approach their outfield beyond starters Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton in 2020. The team could find depth in a young, in-house candidate such as Andrew Stevenson (who flourished in his pinch-hitting role this season), it could run it back with Michael A. Taylor (though it signed Parra because of Taylor’s struggles in the first place), or it could explore the somewhat deep free agent pool.
Perhaps most significantly, this ends the “Baby Shark” phenomenon that took over Nationals Park this season, when fans stood and chomped their arms together. It seemed unlikely that Parra would inspire a stadium full of people at the beginning of the season, when he was hitting below .200 with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants released him in early May, and about a week later, the Nationals snapped him up.
The utility player joined the team in Los Angeles and, in that four-game series against the Dodgers, hit a game-winning grand slam and broke up a no-hit bid by Hyun-jin Ryu in the eighth inning. Parra continued his hot start for a few weeks, but by mid-June he was struggling at the plate and decided to change his walk-up song.
He thought about reggaeton or rap, but he ultimately chose “Baby Shark,” the favorite song of his 2-year-old daughter, Aalyiah. It sparked a movement. And yet the day it began, it wasn’t even the day’s main story from the ballpark. The start of “Baby Shark” came in the first game of the Nationals’ doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 19, and it was overshadowed by the second game, which featured seven scoreless innings from Max Scherzer, pitching with a broken nose.
“Baby Shark” became the song of the summer in the District, and even as his production at the plate faltered further, Parra remained a positive presence. He developed the defense of Soto and Robles — two Gold Glove finalists — and enlisted starter Aníbal Sánchez as a co-conspirator to his antics. Teammates credited the Venezuelans for making playing baseball fun again when the team was struggling in late May. They blasted various Latin pop songs throughout the clubhouse after victories, sandwiched the withdrawn Strasburg in hugs after his starts and donned expensive-looking sunglasses in the dugout (which were actually giveaway glasses).
Those big moments were important, but what Parra meant to this season was perhaps most revealed in the little moments. It was the lazy afternoons in the home clubhouse interrupted by the honking of the scooter he rode to work. It was him going around the clubhouse one day in October, telling everyone his English was so good during a TV appearance that he wanted to be called by the English version of his name, Gerard. It was 10 a.m. on a Sunday in Detroit, Parra walking in with a boombox on his shoulder and a smile on his face and a message to the team that today, like every day, should be so much fun.
“I never do nothing intentional,” Parra said during the playoff run. “Everything I do, I do from my heart because, if you don’t do it from your heart, nothing happen like it will happen right now.”
It was that energy that Martinez needed. The manager understood that after some forced attempts at fun — the camels last year, smashing cabbages this season — they had found something organic and they needed to hold on to it.
Now though, months later, this season and its magic are over.
Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.