- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adam LaRoche developed a certain affinity for the Chicago White Sox in the late 1980s, growing up in the clubhouse at old Comiskey Park. His father, Dave, served three seasons as the team’s bullpen coach, and the experiences and impressions left upon LaRoche during those formative years have followed him throughout his baseball career.

Thus, it was only natural for LaRoche to accept a contract offer from the White Sox this past offseason, signing a two-year, $25 million deal and leaving the Washington Nationals after four seasons.

“It was a city that I always liked and a team that I always rooted for — mainly because my dad was here,” LaRoche said Tuesday. “I was kind of at the age where I was starting to learn baseball a little bit and understand it, and at that age, you kind of pick a team and stick with it the rest of your life. I’ve always been a White Sox fan.”

LaRoche, 35, may find some comfort in putting on a White Sox uniform, but everything else will be an adjustment. For the first time in his 11-year career, he’ll primarily serve as the designated hitter — a situation rarely afforded to him, considering he spent all but one week playing in the National League.

Jose Abreu, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, will be the primary replacement at first base for Paul Konerko, who retired last September after 16 seasons with the team. LaRoche, who has been the designated hitter just seven times in his career, will occasionally fill in for Abreu, believing that in talks with manager Robin Ventura, he’ll make two, maybe three, starts a week in the field.

“No doubt, I want to play first every day,” LaRoche said. “I know physically, it’s going to help being able to DH some. All the standing around the last couple years, I have some lower back issues, and the majority of that is just from standing at first for six months. I think physically, it’s going to be a lot easier.”

The decision to leave Washington, where he had become ingrained as a clubhouse leader and a reliable left-handed power bat in the middle of the lineup, wouldn’t have been a simple one for LaRoche. But, with the emergence of Anthony Rendon at third base, the Nationals needing to find somewhere for Ryan Zimmerman to play, and the absence of contract talks after the season had ended, LaRoche knew that a return to Washington wasn’t going to happen.

“You spend four years with pretty much the same guys, it’s like family,” LaRoche said. “We’re around each other for eight months out of the year, so I’ll definitely miss those guys. But, it was time to move on.”

Although the White Sox reported to spring training a little over a month ago, some teammates said LaRoche has already endeared himself well in the clubhouse. He fills a leadership role vacated by Konerko’s retirement, with third baseman Conor Gillaspie noting that adding LaRoche was “definitely something that we needed.”

“Not that we didn’t have leaders, but he’s a quiet leader, and that’s something that a lot of people in today’s day and age — a lot of people look up to guys like that,” said Gillaspie, who’s entering his third season with the team. “He leads by more than just a baseball example. I look at him as somebody to model your family after. He does everything right, and those are the kind of guys that you want to be around.”

That’s part of the reason why LaRoche continues to have his 13-year-old son, Drake, frequently tag along at the ballpark as well. The younger LaRoche has already become such a mainstay that when he returned home to Kansas over the weekend, second baseman Gordon Beckham joked that he had been sent to minor-league camp.

But for LaRoche, having his son present also offers a reminder of what he used to experience while growing up. Being around players such as Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk created memories that, more than two decades later, LaRoche couldn’t forget.

And, in a similar manner, he has the opportunity to provide guidance for some of Chicago’s younger players, once again filling that familiar leadership role.

“Whatever they’ve been through, I’ve probably been through it and remember how frustrating it is and can keep things in perspective,” LaRoche said. “I felt like in D.C., I was in a position there with quite a few of those guys to have that kind of relationship, but it didn’t come my first spring training. It comes from being around these guys for a while and kind of earning their trust and, you know, practicing what you’re preaching.”


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