LaRoche has quietly put together big season
First baseman has MVP-type numbers as Nats' laid-back leader
WASHINGTON -- First baseman Adam LaRoche is arguably the most relaxed member of the Nationals. He often speaks in a whisper and rarely shows his emotions. His son, Drake, is louder, and you always know that he is in the room. Most of the time, the younger LaRoche will have a box of donuts for the players and is ready to work in the clubhouse and during batting practice with his dad.
After games, and if he is a factor in the game, one can barely hear what Adam says because country music is blaring in the clubhouse. LaRoche's calmness is not by accident.
His approach to life comes from his father, Dave LaRoche, a former big league pitcher during the 1970s and '80s. While traveling with his father to big league parks, Dave taught his son something that sticks with him to this day.
"Part of it is my personality," Adam said. "A part of it was how I was raised, because my dad preached all the time not to get too high and not get too low. Stay even keel and take the good with the bad. I took that to heart at a young age, and I just kind of go with the flow now.
"I know through enough years of big league baseball, it's not always easy, it's not always pretty. There is going to be some bumps in the road. Emotionally, it would let it start getting in the way, it would hinder getting back in the groove."
Don't let LaRoche's cool demeanor fool you. He takes care of business on and off the field. According to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, LaRoche is one of the leaders on and off the field.
"He exudes that quiet confidence and that quiet leadership," Rizzo said. "And the young players that are smart, they watch how he takes care of business, how he conducts himself and prepares for a baseball game. If they do that, they are way ahead of the game, because he is a pro's pro."
Said teammate Danny Espinosa, "He is a quiet leader. He runs his ground balls hard, he does everything the right way. He sets a good example in the clubhouse."
LaRoche's cool demeanor was tested this past offseason, when it looked like the Nationals might have to trade him. They were trying to sign then-free agent Prince Fielder. LaRoche understood why the Nationals would want Fielder on their roster, as the slugger averaged 36 home runs and 94 RBIs during his seven years with the Brewers.
LaRoche, on the other hand, was coming off an injury-filled season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. In the 43 games he played last year, he had problems displaying power because of the shoulder.
"I thought it was definitely an option," LaRoche said about the possibility of getting traded. "At the time, I thought they were crazy [if they didn't try to] get Prince, especially not knowing if I was totally healthy. [If they were to have acquired] Prince, I would not have been upset at all. I would have played somewhere else."
But the Nationals didn't offer Fielder a big enough contract, and he ended up signing a long-term deal with the Tigers.
And they still had LaRoche, who entered the season healthy, and it paid off for the Nationals. He is arguably the MVP of the team. LaRoche carried the team the first 1 1/2 months of the season, when most of the position players were in slumps or on the disabled list.
"He carried the offense early on, with all the injuries, and he really carried it without a lot of players protecting him," Rizzo said.
"The Nationals made the right decision and kept me around," LaRoche said.
LaRoche leads the Nationals in almost every offensive category and he is one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball.
"Baseball revolves around being healthy," teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. "When Adam is healthy, offensively, he has shown what he can do. But I think, defensively he is one of the best, too. Very rarely at first base do you get the best of both worlds."
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for LaRoche after the season. LaRoche and the Nationals have a mutual option worth $10 million. LaRoche made it clear that he wants to stay with the Nationals because of their bright future.
"I want to be a part of this, not just this year, but in the future, too," LaRoche said. "If it works out -- great. If not, it's unfortunate. It would be part of their plan. I have no idea. You have to talk to the boss about that one."
Rizzo said he told LaRoche and his agent they will talk about next year after the postseason is over.
"We would love to have him back. We are certainly going to talk about that at the prudent time," Rizzo said. "Adam and his people agree that we have things on our mind right now that are going to take all of our attention. We'll certainly be in a communication directly after the season."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.