By: Caitlin Haworth
The sports world has been endlessly buzzing with the news of Adam LaRoche, player for the Chicago White Sox, retiring from baseball due to restrictions being placed on the amount of time his 14-year-old son, Drake, spends with the team. According to an article on ESPN, Drake spent everyday on the field or in the clubhouse along side all players of the White Sox organization, including his own father during the . Drake was known on the team as being a “respectful, appropriately confident, well-liked kid.” Despite his reputation, the presence of a child changes the dynamic of the atmosphere surrounding the team. While enforcing rules about family visitation on the part of the organization is completely understandable, the changes presented by a child are not necessarily bad. The presence of a child changes the dynamic of any place, whether it is in a household or in a baseball clubhouse. Additionally, the stir that has risen since the call has greatly affected the players of the team. “Its extremely frustrating,” says White Sox player Chris Sale, “especially when people tell you we’re here to win a championship and then stuff like this happens.” Children in professional sports settings are not a bad thing, and the decision of the Chicago White Sox to limit the attendance of Drake LaRoche could potentially cause more harm to the team than good by lowering team morale and altering the atmosphere of the clubhouse.
Thursday, March 17, 2016 was an eventful day for the Chicago White Sox. Sometime during the day, Adam LaRoche announced his retirement. It came later that this sudden notice was due to disagreements with upper management of the team. Despite having previously worked out an agreement with the White Sox, LaRoche was told his son was spending too much time with the team and that visitations were to be reduced. “The decision was easy,” said LaRoche in a personal statement about the matter. “This was likely to be the last year of my career,” he continued, “and there’s no way I was going to spend it without my son.”
Drake LaRoche watches a Chicago White Sox practice from the side.
Throughout his career, LaRoche had been surrounded by family and baseball. His father, Dave LaRoche, was a professional player in the 1970s. Growing up with his father as a coach and mentor rooted the importance of the baseball into LaRoche and his brother, Andy, young. As an adult, all LaRoche wanted was to give his son the same experiences, memories and bonds he was fortunate to have. He wanted to share his favorite moments on and off the field with the young boy he admired most.
In 2004, LaRoche started his professional career with the Atlanta Braves where he stayed for 3 years before continuing a series of moves from places such as Pittsburgh, Toronto, Boston and Arizona. In 2011, he landed in Washington DC with the Nationals and arguably had the best 4 years of his career peaking in 2012. LaRoche’s second year with the Nats included 571 at bats in 154 games, 33 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a batting average of .271. In the same year he was awarded the Golden Glove award as well as the Silver Slugger award. In 2015, LaRoche signed a two-year $25 million contract with the Chicago White Sox, where he stayed until his swift retirement.
A clubhouse of a professional baseball team was not a new scene for Drake as a 14 year-old boy. During his father’s time with the Nationals, Drake spent just as much time in the dugout, at practices and in the clubhouse as he reportedly did with the White Sox. “It was fun to see him around,” noted Bryce Harper, a former teammate of LaRoche. Harper recalled the time the Nationals won the NL East Championship and he and Drake (being the only two underage) celebrated with sparkling cider instead of wine and champagne. Harper went on to list tasks that Drake would help with during his time at Nats Park, anything from washing cleats and helping with laundry to brushing off home plate during practice and shagging fly balls. Many Nationals players joked that Drake’s life was cooler than their own. Drake was even regarded as the Nationals “26th man” for much of the time he spent in Washington.
Drake LaRoche hangs out with a few Washington Nationals players during a practice one afternoon.
Dusty Baker, Nationals Manager, noted his love for kids on the field in the Washington Post. “Personally here, I’m going to do what I’ve always done: invite kids in,” said Baker. During his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Mark McGwire’s son Matt was the team batboy and often met his father at home plate for home run celebrations. Ken Griffey, Jr. notes that LaRoche “had the right to walk away,” citing the times he spent in clubhouses with his own father. In a photo series from ESPN, many players are shown with their kids in dugouts and clubhouses usually before games.
The sudden ban on Drake’s presence in the White Sox clubhouse was only a recent concern. As shown by his connections and relationships with the majority of the players, the Nationals had no problems with the time the then 10 year-old spent with the team. During the 2015 season, the White Sox made no mention of such issues in their own clubhouse. The problems begin to arise, however, when LaRoche’s performance began to be less than desirable. “It wouldn’t be an issue if he drove in 100 [RBIs] and hit 25 [home runs.]” said Anthony Rizzo, first baseman for the White Sox.
While a professional locker room might not be the best place for a 14 year-old to spend free time, it is perhaps one of the best places for a young teenager to learn essential life lessons that can’t be taught in any classroom. Arguably, there is no other 14 year-old that has as many well-respected role models to look up to than Drake LaRoche; role models, whom he considers friends, that not only show him how to be a good sport after a tough loss, but also how to be passionate in their job and to give the game everything they’ve got.
A lot can be said in regards to LaRoche’s character and his relation with the game of baseball to be so open to the idea of having his son on the field surrounded by such emotions and varied situations that most parents would keep their kids far away from. Clearly, LaRoche not only trusts his teammates, coaches, and management staff to maintain appropriate behavior, but also is confident in himself to be able to distinguish between when he needs to fill the role of professional athlete and when he needs to be a father.
The call to remove Drake from the White Sox organization could have hazardous repercussions on the team for the coming season. Being seen as a “leader” in the group and “more helpful than anything” the loss of Drake will greatly change the dynamic of the baseball clubhouse. An atmosphere that was once conscious of the presence of a teenager might be more open with expressing negative emotions now that younger eyes are not watching. Adjustments on part of the team will need to be made in order to make up for the loss of LaRoche in the lineup now that both LaRoche men are without a team to call themselves a part of. “We’re missing two of our puzzle pieces,” notes Rizzo, and a puzzle with two holes is hardly championship material.