On Thursday, just before a series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Nationals held Hispanic Heritage Day to honor the great Roberto Clemente as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th until October 15th.
In the pre-game ceremonies, the Nats also invited “the woman who saved baseball,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
She was escorted out to the mound by Juan Soto while manager Dave Martinez was behind home plate to catch the pitch.
A cool moment for all involved as they honored their Hispanic heritage.
This season, in particular, the Nationals are certainly grateful to the Hispanic influence their team has had. GM Mike Rizzo spoke glowingly about the Latin players on the ballclub during his weekly interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday.
“I think that the influx of really talented Latin players that we have on this roster, along with the veteran Latin leadership has really drawn this team close together,” Rizzo said.
The clubhouse seems to be the loosest it’s been since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005.
It’s not only been fun for the fans to watch, but the players always have smiles on their faces, clearly enjoying just being in the company of each other every single game.
“I’ve been fortunate to be on some really good teams that do have a lot of fun,” Brian Dozier recently told Nats Xtra, “but this team here I think takes it to another level.
“I think it that goes to show, you’ve got guys that have had success in the game, have been around, we mix in a bunch of young guys as well and everyone comes together. It’s like a family, it’s like brotherhood.
“What we do in the clubhouse, obviously we can’t talk about a lot of things, but that’s what you do. It’s not win and then have fun. You come to the ballpark expecting to win, have fun, and the wins kind of take care of themselves and we’ve been doing that for a while now.”
Sometimes, clubhouses can become a cliquey place, with small divides forming. That’s far from the case with these Nats players and Rizzo credits the veteran Latino players on the team for this.
“I think it’s not only the really exciting Latin players that we have,” Rizzo said, “but a lot of it has to do with the Latin leadership.
“You could have a fragmented locker room at times when you don’t have the great Latin leadership that we have on this team.”
Gerardo Parra has received a lot of the credit for helping turn this team around from the lethargic group that slumped to a 14-22 record before his arrival in mid-May.
Not only were his on-field contributions in big spots huge, but he brought a breath of fresh air to the clubhouse with his infectious personality as well as his now-notorious walk-up song.
Even though Parra’s name may come up the most, he’s far from the only Latin leader on this team.
“Aníbal Sánchez and Gerardo Parra and the addition of Fernando Rodney was huge,” Rizzo also told The Junkies. “I think that these guys are not only good players but good people and great leaders.”
Those three players have not only helped loosen up the clubhouse and brought the Nats together but have all taken players under their wings and helped them develop all season.
Parra has been like a father-figure to Soto and Victor Robles, or as he likes to call them, “his babies.” Rodney has also helped some of the younger bullpen arms, with Wander Suero a notable example when talking about players positively impacted by the 42-year-old.
And all of this is before we come onto the dugout dancing. A creation of Sánchez and Parra, every time someone on the team hits a home run, they go through the high-five line in the dugout before performing a dance at the end of the dugout.
We’ve seen everything from Salsa Dancing to Remember The Titans with The Sprinkler and some twerking mixed in for good measure. Everyone has been involved in the craze.
We’ve even seen the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, neither particularly known for flamboyance or an outgoing personality, dancing along after their long balls.
“They like being around each other, and I think they like playing for each other,” Rizzo explained to The Junkies. A belief that the dugout dancing only strengthens.
So you can thank Parra and Sánchez for all the GIFs of the dances you see littered all over Twitter these days. Their compelling friendship, born out of their native Venezuela, has been contagious.
The two wear matching pink and orange-tinted sunglasses in the dugout when not playing and are there waiting to judge the next home run hitter who has to show off their dance moves at the end of the dugout.
Even for those who only joined recently, the clubhouse atmosphere stands out above all else.
“I think for a team that wants to win, you have to stay together like a family,” Asdrúbal Cabrera told Nats Xtra after Friday’s game.
“We always battle every inning, every pitch. We come together no matter how the game is going and I think it makes this team special.”
None of this would be possible without a manager who helps foster the fun and never-say-die attitude either.
While his in-game decision-making still leaves a lot to be desired, Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has never wavered in his ways. He preached about going 1-0 every day and allowed players to be themselves, even when things weren’t going well.
That meant that, when Parra arrived with a fresh outlook, Martinez let him be him, spreading his positive outlook throughout the team, helping them turn their entire season around.
With the ghosts of postseason past that currently haunt the franchise, plenty of Nationals fans will no doubt be wondering “why will this year be any different?”
The togetherness of this group brought about the Latin contingent on the team is like no other Nationals team before them. They stay resilient as a team and should they make a run this October, it will be thanks in no small part to influence of their Latin contingent.