Rizzo, in his role as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ scouting director, signed Parra in 2004 out of Venezuela, so when he was available this season, and the Nationals needed a spark, the GM brought the 32-year-old, 11-year veteran to the nation’s capital.
“First and foremost,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in July, after Parra had established himself as a powerful clubhouse presence and useful backup outfielder, “... the guy is an above-average defensive outfielder, he’s got a cannon for a throwing arm. He’s a good, intelligent baserunner, and can hit off the bench. We knew that going in ... when we acquired him. I have a personal history with him. I signed him as a 16-year-old, so I’ve known him since he’s 15 years old, so I knew what the kid was all about.
“He’s got an infectious personality. He’s got a motor that never stops. He’s got a great energy and people just want to be around him. It was really good for the clubhouse, but again, he brings a lot of things to the table. His makeup is certainly a big part of it, but he’s still a good little player that can do a lot of stuff for us. As a bench player and as a leader, he’s taken up both of those roles and excelled at both of them.”
Whether it’s his “Baby Shark” walk-up song, the dugout dances after home runs, or any of the other ways he’s had an impact on the Nationals, what’s clear when you hear from the team is that he has been a positive influence that’s helped the Nats get to where they are right now.
“He brings a lot of energy to the team, no doubt,” Aníbal Sánchez told reporters when he spoke before Game 4 of the NLCS.
“Since the first moment that he stepped in the dugout, I remember in L.A., he made his first noise about like positive thoughts on the clubhouse. From that moment on, we try to bring -- like try to have fun, instead of more like play hard. I think at that point, we are really behind in the division.
“But this guy is unbelievable. He’s funny, and he’s happy, and he brings all the energy to the team. I’m glad to have this guy on the team.”
Parra joined the Nationals on May 10th in LA, when they were approaching the agreed-upon low point of their season, when they fell to 19-31 on May 23rd.
In his second game with his new team, Parra hit a go-ahead grand slam in Los Angeles, to lift the Nationals from a 2-1 deficit in a 5-2 win over the Dodgers, and he hit seven doubles and four home runs over his first 52 games (20 starts) with his new team, over which he posted a .272/.318/.456 line. But he struggled in August, with a .200/.259/.400 line over 20 games (and 10 starts) on the month, and went through a really rough stretch in late August and September, going 2 for 45 at that point.
“He brings the fun every day,” Parra’s manager Davey Martinez said, “but he lost that part of his game for a while during that period.
“He went through a stretch where he was 2 for 30-something. And I didn’t see the energy that I was seeing when he was doing well and bringing it to the clubhouse. So I called him in one day, and I sat with him.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’
“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,’ and he’s been doing it.”
Eventually, Parra turned things around, and got back to being himself. What does Parra being himself look like?
“We talked about this today and just having him be that constant every day,” Martinez said.
“I mean, it’s tough to not have fun when he’s around. He made a comment yesterday because he was on ‘Intentional Talk’, and he comes in, the first thing he says, he goes, ‘Man, I nailed it. My English was perfect. My name is no more Gerardo, it’s Gerard.’
“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.
“I want them to have fun. I want them to be loose. Like I said before, we’re not here solving the world’s problems. We’re here playing a baseball game. Some of you guys have done it since you were 3, 4 years old. So just go out there and have fun.”
Parra’s at bat in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS was something to behold, or at least his walk to the plate was something, with most of the 43,976 in attendance in Nationals Park chomping along with their arms as “Baby Shark” played.
Anything more wild than a ballpark full of adults and children alike singing "Baby Shark?" pic.twitter.com/buK6yJQfKj— Cut4 (@Cut4) October 16, 2019
Parra singled, naturally, but was stranded.
“Of course he was going to get a hit,” Ron Darling said on the TBS broadcast.
“I only put him in the game today to get the fans going again,” Martinez joked after the 7-4 win over the Cardinals that gave the Nationals a four-game sweep of St. Louis.
“I’m just kidding,” the second-year skipper continued. “He’s meant the world to -- not -- to me. When we picked him up, I knew what kind of guy he was. I talked to [Bullpen Coach] Henry [Blanco]. Henry played with him. Henry was his teammate, Blanco, and I told him, I said, ‘Look, we’re going to get Parra. I know what kind of clubhouse guy he is. Tell me what you think.’”
“He says, “You want him.’ I said, ‘He’s a heck of a player, but he’ll keep that clubhouse loose.’
“I said, ‘Well, we’re going to get him, and I need him.’
“Yeah, we needed him at that point. He’s just another veteran guy, a left-handed bat, can play first, outfield positions. But what he’s meant to this team outside of just -- regardless of playing, what he’s done in that clubhouse has really changed the way these guys go about their business. I mean, it was business. There wasn’t a whole lot of -- he made it fun for this team.
“I said this earlier today, there was a point in time where he was struggling real bad. He was like 2 for 30, and it was kind of -- everything was kind of down a little bit. I didn’t feel that energy, and I brought him in the office, and I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’
“And he goes, ‘Oh, you know, I’m not hitting. I’m not helping the team.’
“I go, ‘No, no, no.’ I said, ‘I don’t care if you’re 2 for 100, your job is to bring the energy every single day. That’s who you are. I said, you play that music loud. You pump up the guys. I said, you’re the guy that brings that energy every day, and he just looked at me, and he goes, ‘You’re right.’
“He said, ‘I’m not doing my job.’ I said, ‘Well, go do your job.’
Needless to say, after that, he started hitting again, and he came back to my office a few days later, and he goes, ‘Hey, thank you. I didn’t realize that I need to have fun too, not worry about...’ -- I said, ‘Yeah, hey, bring it every day. I told you, for me, 0 for 4s, 0 for 5s don’t really bother me. It’s what you bring on and off the field that I care about,’ and he’s that guy. Those guys up there, every one of his teammates love him. Love him. All the fans love him. He’s just that guy. He’s the Parra Shark.”