LaRoche brings bat, winning attitude
New first baseman makes debut Wednesday at Pirate City
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The spotlight has been on Adam LaRoche since a Jan. 19 trade brought him to Pittsburgh from Atlanta, and with it, many expectations were heaped upon him: LaRoche is the left-handed bat the Pirates were missing last year. LaRoche is the leader. LaRoche is the answer.
At 27 years old, that's a lot of responsibility for the Bucs' new first baseman. But, shortly before he took the field Wednesday at Pirate City for his first workout in a Pittsburgh jersey, LaRoche said he's been groomed for this moment since he first stepped foot in Atlanta.
"In Atlanta, it was good because we had Chipper [Jones] and Andruw [Jones], and everybody there that wanted a piece of them," said LaRoche, who played for the Braves from 2004-06. "[Other] good players were on the back burner. But after seeing the way they handled it, it was kind of the fathers of the team. It was neat to be able to pick their brains and watch that go on."
LaRoche said he's looking forward to embracing the role handed to him, but made it clear there were still a few minor adjustments he was making. LaRoche admitted being disappointed to learn he'd been traded, not because of the Pirates' record, but because Atlanta had been his home since 2000.
The move also meant he'd have to assimilate to a new park, new Spring Training facility and a new style of managing, but LaRoche said after his first workout that the difference wasn't as big as one might think.
"There are some camps [where] it's like a boot camp. [Pittsburgh's] camp is a lot like Atlanta's, where it's just a laid-back thing," he said. "We're all grown men, and we all know what we need to do to get ready. It's not like some of the others. It's what I'm used to."
A few days after the trade was completed, LaRoche noticed that a piece of home had already beaten him to Pittsburgh: former Braves teammate and good friend Nick Green. Their lockers are next to each other at McKechnie Field, which provided the two a little time to catch up before going to workouts.
"He called me. I was on my way to Pittsburgh and he called me and said, 'I just read in the paper that you were over there,'" said Green, a utility infielder who signed with the Pirates as a Minor League free agent one day prior to the LaRoche trade.
"He was so excited. And I was excited, because I hadn't heard from him. When he's [at home in Kansas], the cell phone reception isn't good. I was excited to have someone, a familiar face."
While Green put time in at both second and third bases at a field nearby, LaRoche manned first base Wednesday, took grounders and ran double plays, and then stepped up to the plate and proved his powerful swing by parking a ball off the fence in right-center field. The crowd applauded and came alive with conversation about the three-year Major League veteran who has only sharpened his game over time.
"He brings stability to the middle of our order, and strategically, he makes it a little bit more difficult for opposing managers to deal with our lineup," manager Jim Tracy said. "The defense that you'll see being played at first base -- and no disrespect to anyone -- but this guy's a real good defensive first baseman. It helps to shore us up defensively on the infield."
In 2006, LaRoche hit .285 and set career records in every offensive category for the Braves. He also finished second in home runs (32), fourth in RBIs (90). On the other side, he committed just five total errors last season in 1,117 chances.
It's not just LaRoche's stats that Pittsburgh was shopping for, though: It's his vision. LaRoche comes from an Atlanta team that had a string of 14 consecutive playoff experiences snapped in 2006, the first time it had finished below .500 in 17 years.
"[Going .500] is never going to be my goal, and I would like to get that out of everybody's heads," LaRoche said. "It's easy for me to say, because I haven't been here playing with these guys, and seeing the struggles and the frustration. To a guy coming in that's been lucky enough to be on a winning team for a few years, .500 really never crossed my mind.
"We all come here for one goal: To get to the playoffs. Obviously, you want to win a World Series, but you've got to get to the playoffs first."
Both Tracy and general manager Dave Littlefield attempted to downplay the importance of LaRoche's first day during a conversation with reporters, with Tracy commenting simply that LaRoche, "Worked out. That's it."
LaRoche's demeanor should assure them he's prepared, and even embracing, whatever pressure he's about to endure.
"Everyone wants this responsibility," LaRoche said. "Everyone wants to be the guy on the team that guys look up to and you're expected to get the job done, so I'm grateful for those three years to learn that and see how it's done right."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.