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Feb. 28, 2015: For Adam LaRoche, it’s all in the family with the White Sox

Chicago Tribune

As Adam LaRoche made himself at home with the White Sox last week during the opening of spring training at Camelback Ranch, he also brought with him a key part of his own home — his son.

Drake LaRoche is a 13-year-old who already has been deemed “a lucky kid” by Sox manager Robin Ventura. He moved into his new locker in the Sox spring clubhouse, watched batting practice from the third base line in his new Sox uniform with his dad’s No. 25 on the back and chatted with the players and coaches with whom he will spend the spring.

Adam spent his childhood with his father and brothers in baseball clubhouses, and he wants his son to have the same opportunity. For several years now, he and Drake have spent “guy time” together for the first two weeks of spring training — at the field and then fishing or golfing after practices — before Adam’s wife and daughter join them to make it a full-family affair.

It always has been that way for Adam, starting when Dave LaRoche, a former major league pitcher for 14 seasons, including two with the Cubs, coached in the minor leagues. The LaRoche boys — Jeff, Adam and Andy — were home-schooled during the baseball season, so they could go to work with him at the ballpark.

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That included time with the Sox when Dave was the bullpen coach. They traversed the tunnels and hit in the batting cage at old Comiskey Park. They played with the sons of Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Thigpen and wrestled with Carlton Fisk. And they watched how some of the best in the game worked.

“I didn’t really appreciate it at the time when I was that age,” Adam said. “I didn’t realize how cool that was and how those memories would be with me forever. … We were incredibly welcomed, which was neat, and I’m seeing the same thing with Drake — guys going out of their way to introduce themselves to Drake and take care of him.”

Dave remembers how closely Adam watched games and observed first basemen, starting with Orestes Destrade when he was a minor leaguer in the Yankees system. He thinks it helped his sons when they started their careers.

“They were just around the game their whole lives, so when they had the opportunity to play professionally, they never were intimidated by anything,” said Dave, who now is retired and was talking by phone from his winter home in Mexico. “When they started playing, they weren’t intimidated by older kids, and when they got into pro ball, it was an extension of their lives.

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“They were used to road trips. They were used to the clubhouse. They were used to having to wear collared shirts to the ballpark. I think it made the transition for them a lot easier than it is for some kids who weren’t around it.”

Adam and Andy, who is with the Sox on a minor-league contract this spring, said there also were lessons beyond baseball to be learned in the clubhouses. Both used the word “respect.”

“I learned who I wanted to be like and who I didn’t want to be like,” Adam said. “There are definitely some players who were a little more guarded, who did some things you may not totally respect. And I would see guys who would go out of their way to sign autographs for a kid or go out of their way to come play with us when they probably had other things they could have been doing. That’s what I took away from it.”

He hopes Drake takes away the same lessons, knowing that he will see both good and bad while spending so much time with adults. He already has noticed the signs of how it has helped Drake grow up, like how he has learned to look someone in the eye when he’s talking. Ventura and Adam, who first got to know each other during Dave’s time with the Sox, talked about the arrangement before arriving at Camelback Ranch, and Adam’s instructions for Drake are to earn his keep — pick up cleats, hang up laundry, shag balls.

Drake, who works with Sylvan Learning Center to do his homework from his school in Kansas while he’s away, fractured his collarbone snowboarding just before arriving in Arizona, so his activities are more limited this spring. He might not be able to beat his record catching fly balls during batting practice, but he still will have time to spend with his dad and uncle — and to win over Sox fans.

When Adam played for the Nationals the last four seasons, Drake drew the attention of fans from hanging around the team and high-fiving Adam following home runs.

“They miss him more than they do me,” Adam said. “He was loved there. Shoot, he got to where he’d be out signing autographs during BP for fans. It was funny. Just because he was around so much, they got to know him, they got to love him.”

Ventura called Drake “well-behaved” and Sox center fielder Adam Eaton, whose locker sits next to Drake’s, said he is “a joy to be around.” Eaton, 26, doesn’t mind a family vibe in the clubhouse.

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“It keeps things light,” Eaton said. “As serious as this game is, as soon as your child or somebody else’s child walks in the room, you know there’s a bigger picture. … It’s something special to have them around. It keeps life in perspective and you enjoy being around them.”

Dave just recently was reminded how important it also can be to the kids.

When Adam signed his two-year, $25 million deal with the Sox in November, Dave was surprised to hear that his son wanted to play in the American League and for a team that probably would need him at designated hitter as much as at first base. Then he heard part of Adam’s reasoning.

“He expressed how excited he was playing with the White Sox and how much fun he always had and that it brings back so many memories for him,” Dave said. “Then all of a sudden I realized — those years were really special.”

ckane@tribpub.com

Twitter @ChiTribKane


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