There’s no denying the role that “Baby Shark” played in the Washington Nationals’ 2019 championship season.
Since debuting as Gerardo Parra’s walk-up song in June, the viral children’s tune took on a life of its own, evolving into an infectious good luck charm for the Nationals themselves and the baseball fans, who embraced the track with everything from hand motions to Halloween costumes.
But what may come as a surprise is that the “Baby Shark” phenomenon almost never was.
Parra tells PEOPLE the song that turned the season around was born by accident, and that it all started one morning when he awoke to find his 2-year-old daughter Aaliyah jamming to her favorite song.
“She started putting on music, and I saw her dancing, happy, like 20 times [she put it on],” he says.
Parra, 32, headed to the clubhouse later that day, intending to tell the team that he wanted to change his walk-up song.
But when he pulled out his phone, the only thing that would play was “Baby Shark” — and so it began.
“Every time I tried to figure out what song I wanted to put on, the ‘Baby Shark’ starts,” he explains. “So I do it like this [swipes screen] three times. Three times ‘Baby Shark’ is still there. The last time I say, ‘You know what? That’s the song I want to put.’ They looked at me like, surprised. ‘You sure?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. … Maybe yes, it’s an accident, but I think God gave me the opportunity to.”
It didn’t take long for the infectious song to gain the stamp of approval from Parra’s teammates, and soon, many were telling the MLB star he was their kid’s favorite player.
The reserve outfielder has since adopted two small stuffed baby sharks, one yellow and one blue, which have both been authenticated by Major League Baseball in the same way they authenticate game-used baseballs and jerseys.
One even joined him in the dugout during several post-season games, and he now keeps it in his pocket as a good luck charm.
For Parra, the “Baby Shark” days have been fun, though he says the best part is seeing the joy it brings to the team’s youngest fans.
“I think all the kids, they’re waiting for me, so they get their bodies jumping, do the baby shark, do the daddy shark,” he says. “That’s a special moment for me, all the kids happy. I think the other more important thing is all these kids and all the fans bringing a lot of energy to us in the big moment where we need it. All those connect to the team, and I think that’s [why] we made it a championship year.”
Parra’s wife Tania, with whom he also shares 10-month-old daughter Emma, tells PEOPLE that Aaliyah is among those kids thoroughly enjoying the “Baby Shark” era. “My baby is happy, too, for daddy,” she says.
As for that “Baby Shark” tattoo he promised should the Nationals win the World Series, the athlete says that’s still in the works, as part of a bigger piece of ink on his arm that’ll also include the trophy, his signature sunglasses, and the words “World Series Champion,” a title the team cemented with a win over the Houston Astros in Game 7 on Oct. 30, marking the franchise’s first World Series win.
For now, Parra says he’s still soaking up the team’s victory tour, which included a parade in Washington, D.C. and a visit to the White House to meet the president and first lady, something he calls a “special moment.”
“This is history. I don’t want to wake up [from] that dream. I think I want to stay,” he says. “All the team together, it’s family, it’s not like 25 guys. It’s only one name.”
Though several of his teammates — including pitcher Sean Doolittle — opted not to attend the White House visit, Parra says his trip was entirely apolitical, and that he saw it as following in the footsteps of every other team who won a big championship.
“I respect whatever my teammates do,” he says. “I still love my teammates … I just respect everybody and I’m happy if [they decided] to go or not.”
Though Parra is currently a free agent, he says he hopes to return next year — and assures fans he’ll once again be bringing “Baby Shark” with him, too.