WASHINGTON D.C. -- There's a basic human desire to compare every pennant winner, and to cram their players into the same familiar bins. There's the hotshot youngster, the ringless veteran, and so on. Every fan favorite is the clubhouse bonding agent, or the human adhesive that held together a 25-player roster through a long summer and challenging fall. The mythos around these players often defy reason, yet fit perfectly in the often-illogical sports world; thus making them irresistibly easy copy.
When the Washington Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month, and sending them to their , they ensured veteran outfielder Gerardo Parra was about to have renewed national relevance.
Don't laugh -- that request often prefaces these stories. Parra has become an important component on the Nationals for reasons that cannot be quantified or witnessed on the field -- usually, anyway. Parra received some of the loudest cheers of the night on Tuesday during and after a pinch-hit appearance that saw him single. It's fair to ask, why?
Parra, after all, recorded an 87 OPS+ in just over 200 plate appearances with the Nationals -- his addition coming after he was discarded by the San Francisco Giants, a team who were churning through uninspiring outfielders at a steady pace.
Part of Parra's popularity with the D.C. crowd has to do with "Baby Shark," his walk-up song that will be described as "infectious" a lot this week. The fans clap their hands like imaginary jaws, they wear shark hats, they wear shark costumes. It's Spielberg on Flintstone vitamins. The phenomenon made its way to the World Series in Game 3:
Parra is more than a fan favorite -- he is, indeed, a clubhouse treasure. "It's tough to not have fun when he's around," manager Davey Martinez said on Tuesday. "He was on [MLB Network], and he comes in and the first thing he says, he goes, 'Man, I nailed it. My English was perfect. My name is [not Gerardo anymore], it's Gerard.'
"He started going around the clubhouse saying, 'You call me Gerard from now on."
Anibal Sanchez said Parra is "unbelievable" and that he's "funny," "happy," and "brings all the energy to the team." Even Stephen Strasburg, stoic and laconic, conceded that while he isn't "much of a hugger" he had to take it when Parra and others embraced him Monday.
One important distinction between Parra's story and most in this genre is that the Nationals seldom discuss his on-the-field value. That he's essentially a deep bench bat is accepted. The Nationals make no apologies for prioritizing his value as an energy source. And why should they? Most everyone has felt the tangible impact of a high-grade coworker, even if one cannot calculate their precise value.
Martinez brought the point home on Tuesday when he recalled a conversation he had earlier this season with Parra, who was behaving unlike himself amid a slump. "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," Martinez told Parra. "You're another heartbeat of this team. It's not just about you, it's about everybody else."
Perhaps that thinking is why Parra gets so much attention. He may stand out as an individual, but he does when he's considered an enhancer of every other individual.