How 'Baby Shark' helped the Nats take a bite out of their early deficit

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WASHINGTON -- If the Washington Nationals need a nickname for their stadium, they might want to consider "The Shark Tank." At least for as long as Gerardo Parra is on the team.

Seven weeks ago, Parra made the seemingly trivial decision to change his walk-up music. Released by the San Francisco Giants in early May and signed by Washington shortly thereafter, the journeyman outfielder had been using "Contra La Pared" by Sean Paul and J. Balvin as his walk-up music ever since coming to D.C. But on June 19, prior to a doubleheader against the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies, Parra decided to mix things up -- wayyyyy up -- and walk to the plate to the tune of "Baby Shark."

If you're not familiar with "Baby Shark," it's the exact opposite of a traditional walk-up selection. It's not a thumping rap song that makes stadiums quake. It's not a ubiquitous hip-hop tune that gets people grooving in their seats. It's not a splashy reggaeton jam or a catchy country hit. Instead it's a child's song that, according to many people who don't have kids (and plenty who do), is annoying to the annoying power. It also happens to be Aaliyah Parra's favorite.

"My baby likes it," Gerardo Parra said of his 2-year-old daughter. Aaliyah is so into the song -- which rose to popularity thanks to Korean educational outfit Pinkfong and has a YouTube video that's garnered more than 3 billion views since its 2016 release -- that her father decided to give it a whirl as his walk-up.

Early returns were positive: Parra started Game 1 of that doubleheader against Philly, going 2-for-4 with a homer and helping his team to a sweep of the twin bill. Washington won its next two after that, as well as 13 of its next 17 contests heading into the All-Star Game. Although the Nats cooled off some after the Midsummer Classic, Parra didn't.

In the first two weeks after the break, the 32-year-old Venezuelan collected hits in five consecutive pinch-hit appearances, including a tiebreaking, two-run double against the Rockies that absolutely rocked The Shark Tank -- er, Nationals Park. It was during that stretch that Washington's game-day entertainment staff upped the walk-up ante, adding a videoboard clip of three mini-Parras snapping their arms to the music whenever he steps to the plate. The fans have eaten it up like sharks eating chum. Said second baseman Brian Dozier: "The crowd is very involved." They're not the only ones.

Recently, at the urging of Parra and Venezuelan pitcher Anibal Sanchez, whose locker is next to his close friend and countryman, the Nationals have turned "Baby Shark" into a celebration. Whenever a player hits a single, they turn to their teammates and start flashing the Baby Shark sign from first base (thumb and finger pinching together repeatedly). On a double, they go with Mommy Shark (left and right hand snapping together like a Venus flytrap). For a triple or homer, it's a full-on Daddy Shark (arms and all). Parra's wacky walk-up has become so pervasive that even opponents have taken note.

According to Parra, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto was the first foe to give "Baby Shark" his seal of approval. "He told me it's a good song," said Parra, who says he's constantly getting rave reviews from rivals. "Every catcher tells me that. First basemen tell me they love it. People send me mail and tell me they love it. Everybody loves it."

For the Nationals, all that love has grown to the point where it's oozing off the field and into family life. When Dozier and his wife went to Bethany Beach, Delaware, during the All-Star break, they saw a Baby Shark T-shirt they simply couldn't resist. Despite not having a child of their own yet (they're due later this month), they bought the shirt and shipped it to their 18-month-old niece.

When manager Davey Martinez's granddaughter was in town recently, she came to a game in which Parra pinch hit and couldn't help but get caught up in the craze. That night, after the contest, Martinez came home and was forced by the toddler to watch the "Baby Shark" video on YouTube over and over and over. And over. "So yeah," Martinez said with a chuckle and a roll of his eyes, when asked if Parra pandemonium has blurred the line between professional and personal. "It has hit home."

Even though the Nationals have come back to earth lately, they enter play Wednesday holding the top wild-card spot in the National League. It's a position that was all but unimaginable a couple of months ago, when everyone thought Washington was toast after limping out to a 19-31 start. Although there's no shortage of reasons for the team's improbable turnaround (healthier stars, improved bullpen performance, kinder schedule), those inside the Nats clubhouse believe the wackiest of walker-uppers has a lot to do with it.

"Guys are playing with energy," closer Sean Doolittle said recently. "You see what goes on in the dugout sometimes, and I think Gerardo Parra is a big part of that. I think he brought an energy and flare, and guys are playing loose and confident right now."

Of course, nobody's looser than Baby Shark himself.

"I feel relaxed," Parra said about the impact of his theme song. "All the fans love it and my teammates like it. So everybody's relaxed. It works for me."