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What's Your Natitude?

“Baseball is baseball.” A quote worthy of Yogi Berra but coined by Gerardo Parra. It is sweet simplicity. Anyone who has been paying attention to the Washington Nationals since Parra joined the team on May 9th knows that is when things started to change in the dugout.

Being a DC Sports fan means soul-crushing defeats are part of your DNA. Just look at the Redskins. Or better off, don’t. We enjoyed a much-needed injection of enthusiasm when the Caps won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Seeing their celebratory swim in Georgetown’s fountain while drinking their way through Washington, Maryland, and Virginia – the Caps renewed our faith that a major league sports team could win a title for Ole DC. In fact, squinting into the bright sunlight, coming off the months-long celebration of having Lord Stanley in residence, we began to dream that success might land again.

Instead, the Nationals managed this season like a curveball. It looked like they were way outside only to swing back in over the plate. They lost Bryce “I want to bring a title back to DC” Harper to the Phillies and they lost their mojo. By late May, midway through their season, the team had 19 wins and 31 losses. They were terrible. There was speculation that they would fire their manager and blow up the whole team. They were playing tight. Struggling for wins that wouldn’t stick. That's when they signed “Baby Shark” Gerardo Parra.

Parra, a former San Francisco Giant joined the team when they were at their lowest point. Unaware of the implosion around him, Parra quickly promoted a “relax play baseball” kind of attitude or “Natitude.”

Outside the dugout, Nats fans felt the shift. The players visibly relaxed. They started to smile, to enjoy the game. Television cameras zoomed in on the player running to base before swinging around capturing the action in the dugout. Home run dances replaced high-fives and became stylish strutting celebrations.

When Parra’s walk-up song, Baby Shark blared through the stadium, fans quickly embraced it.

Baby Shark Do doo do doo do doo

Baby Shark Do doo do doo do doo

Baby Shark Do doo do doo do doo

Baby Shark!

The Washington Nationals are in the NLCS

Soon shark hats, t-shirts, and signs flooded Nats Park. Outstretched clapping hands throughout the stadium smacked together in time with laughing and enthusiastic singing of Parra’s new theme song. Players on base matched that clapping or subtly touched index finger to thumb. A tiny salute to the baby shark dance that turned their season around.

Is Parra the Nats lucky charm? No, of course not. But he did deliver the thing that everyone needs. Parra brought perspective. He turned down the noise, took away the unrelenting pressure of world-class athletes and refocused the team on the thing they had forgotten. Baseball is baseball.

Little boys and girls around the world play for the simple joy of the game. It’s not about the big paychecks, bright lights or being recognized on and off the field. Baseball is baseball. The joy of the bat cracking hard against the ball and watching it sail into the sun. It’s running for a pop-up fly ball and feeling it smack into the soft leather glove with an all-out dive into the outfield. It’s sliding across home plate covered from head to toe in dust as the umpire shouts, “SAFE.”

Baseball is baseball simplifies the demands of coaches, managers, teammates, trainers, agents, sponsors, and the other assorted suits that surround professional athletes. Parra’s mantra refocused the team on the joy of the game and that playing, their job, is a privilege. Baseball is walk-up music echoing through the stadium and swiveling hips gyrating to the song. Sunflower seeds in the dugout. Baseball is the cheer of the fans. It’s the seventh-inning stretch. Peanuts and cracker jacks and root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win it’s a shame, but it’s not the end of the world. Every game is an opportunity.

Every organization needs a Parra and if you don’t have one, be one. In business (and baseball) it’s so easy to get twisted up in the details. To add unrelenting pressure when, maybe, there doesn’t need to be any.

What would happen if each of us focused on simple pleasures? Or paused to notice the small joys presenting themselves each day? If we worked with purpose and joy, would we be more productive and start to win? Some days, it’s hard to stop and smell the roses. But dancing in the dugout? That’s something everyone can do.

Against the odds, the Nationals beat the Dodgers. They’ve achieved something that hasn’t been done in over 80 years – and never by the Nats. They’ve advanced to the National League Championship Series. While we all hope (fingers crossed) that they’ll crush the Cardinals and make it to the World Series -- and dare we dream to follow in the Caps footsteps bringing home the big win? With Parra’s Natitude, this team has proved anything is possible.

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