The message from the clubhouse seemed so preposterous, so juvenile, and just plain nutty. The response back to the clubhouse consisted of one word, and a critical punctuation mark.
The date was June 19. The Washington Nationals were slogging through the season, with more losses than wins. Journeyman outfielder Gerardo Parra, who had landed here after the San Francisco Giants shoved him off their spring carousel of disposable outfielders, woke up that morning and decided he needed to change his walk-up music.
His three kids had commandeered his cell phone, and “Baby Shark” had been blaring through his home, and not just one time.
“Like, five times,” Parra said.
Parra snatched his phone and headed to the ballpark. Every time he shuffled his music, in search of that new walk-up song, “Baby Shark” kept coming up.
“I never thought I would pick that song,” he said.
But Parra couldn’t rid his head of the tune. So, what the heck, he sent word that he wanted to try “Baby Shark.”
David Lundin, the Nationals’ vice president of production and broadcasting, has a 3-year-old son. So Lundin knew the song all too well, which is why he sent back that one word: Seriously?
Parra got two hits that day. The Nationals swept a doubleheader, the first two wins in a 15-4 run that put them above .500 to stay.
“Baby Shark” was here to stay too.
“From the second we started playing it, the crowd responded,” Lundin said. “It just grew from there. Kudos to [Parra] for having that vision of what it could be.”
The best and most cherished ballpark entertainment crazes comes from a whim, not from animated clapping hands on a scoreboard and the accompanying demand to “Make Some Noise!” or from grating pregame hosts whose screaming is better suited for a boy band concert.
The Angels’ enduring Rally Monkey stunts came not from a script, after all, but from two guys on the video crew messing around with a movie clip. And so it was with “Baby Shark” at Nationals Park.
The fans jump to their feet, sing along, and make chomping motions with their hands. The workers in the team store stop selling, at least for a moment, and start chomping.
“It’s really uplifting,” store employee Kiara Stebbins said Saturday.
The “Parra Shark” T-shirts soon followed, and the Nationals used the Parra cartoon — and Parra himself — for a “Baby Shark” video. When one of the Nationals gets a hit, the players can do the chomp, and not only when Parra is the one with the hit.
“We normally save it for when Parra gets a hit, and we do the Baby Shark along with the crowd,” Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle said. “But a lot of times, late in games, you might see the shark. You never know.”
Said Lundin: “The greatest is when you see Stephen Strasburg or Max [Scherzer] on base and they’re doing it.”
When the Nationals allowed fans to bring dogs to the ballpark one day, Lundin said, some fans dressed their pups in shark headgear. So many fans themselves dressed in shark gear that Lundin said he learned a new word: gam. (A group of sharks is called a gam.)
When a season that started so horribly – Parra getting cut by the Giants, and the Nationals falling 10 games out of first place before Memorial Day – ended up so sweetly, the players made sure to form a circle around Parra during their clinching celebration.
“He was getting sprayed with champagne to ‘Baby Shark,’ ” Doolittle said.
Parra’s primary role with the Nationals is pinch hitter, but Doolittle said Parra also serves as the clubhouse DJ.
“He puts together our postgame win mix,” Doolittle said.
The “Baby Shark” guy? Does he use real music?
“Real music,” Doolittle said, taking mock offense. “But that’s a real song. That gets the boys going.”
Said general manager Mike Rizzo: “It’s taken on a life of its own. Totally unexpected. I think it’s really fun. I know our fan base loves it, and they love him.”
Still, we found the one guy in Nationals Park who admits to not joining in when the chomp starts.
“You would not see me doing it,” Rizzo said. “It’s not for me to partake in those kinds of things. I’m focused on other things, but it’s fun to watch.”
Oh, and Parra wanted to clear up one thing: This was not his vision. Who could imagine a ballpark turning into a joyful preschool at the sound of “baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo?”
“I never supposed it would be like we have it right now,” Parra said. “But I’m so happy because it brings a lot of energy for us and, more important, the kids enjoy it.”