On paper, I understand why Adam LaRoche wants to have his son, Drake, around him. As a father, there’s a short window of time before your kids are grown up.
On paper, I understand why the White Sox don’t think every day should be “bring your kid to work day.”
But honestly, from 1,400-plus miles away, I’m way beyond stunned at watching the LaRoche situation play out. If you’re willing to walk away from $13 million, then I’m squarely in your corner.
Adam LaRoche is the son of a former major league player – as his dad, Dave, spent 14 years in the majors. Dave’s last year as a player was 1983; his first year as a coach was 1984. It’s pretty safe to say that Adam LaRoche grew up in a baseball clubhouse.
Do I think Cal Ripken Jr. grew up as a person and a baseball player in a clubhouse? Yes I do. Do I think Ken Griffey Jr. grew up as a person and a baseball player in a clubhouse? That’s also a yes. What about sons of players I worked with, like Brian McRae and Gary Matthews Jr.? Yes and yes. Or Eric Young Jr., who I was fortunate to see many times during his dad’s two years with the Cubs? Definitely a yes.
The argument that “a kid can be there some of the time, but not all the time,” is only valid if the kid is a problem – and other players are saying the kid is a problem. The clubhouse belongs to the players, and – trust me – they know how to police themselves. If Adam LaRoche is as respected among his teammates as I believe he is, and if Drake LaRoche is the great kid that everyone says he is, then what’s the issue?
Baseball is not normal. It’s not a Monday-to-Friday, 40-to-50 hours per week job. Yes, the players get paid extremely well. But they don’t get to lead a “normal” life from roughly Valentine’s Day through October 1 (or longer for the postseason teams).
How many companies in this country have a child around every day that some would say shouldn’t be there? And I’m not talking about a 14-year-old kid minding his own business. I’m referring to a kid who is hand-delivered a job after high school or college because of a well-placed parent. Guess what, it happens. And those kids probably don’t do half of what baseball sons do.
The baseball sons who were in the Cubs’ clubhouse all the time earned their keep. They helped the equipment guys do laundry. They helped shine shoes. They shagged fly balls during batting practice.
Most of the kids were sons of coaches – who weren’t making big money. With rare exception, the kids were great kids. I wanted to see them every day to say Hi.
Baseball is a family game, right?
Heck, just the other day, I was having lunch with an old acquaintance. This guy is a sports entrepreneur who lives and breathes sports. He makes his living off sports. And he started the conversation saying something along the lines of, “I don’t know how you did it.”
And he elaborated on his thought process. “There’s no amount of money that could get me to work in a baseball front office … I can’t imagine the stress level a general manager and his staff have … I couldn’t do that to my wife and my family.”
It’s funny. I just had the same type of conversation with Steve Trachsel. After I completed my interview with Trax a few days ago, I turned off the tape recorder and we talked for a few more minutes.
He talked about his upcoming marriage to his fiancée, Rebecca. Although he has two teenagers, he was excited about starting another family.
The whole conversation was interesting, because it’s a reminder that players are human beings, too. And the baseball life takes its toll on families.
And it’s interesting that – on the record – Mr. Trachsel talked about how hard it would be to get back in the game after having been out of it, telling me that his fiancée is interested in his pursuing a baseball career. Off the record, he talked about a “failed” broadcast attempt before centering on the “people don’t understand” area – where being away from the family just kills you inside.
Another former Cub, Terry Adams, echoed those sentiments in a comment about the story (after, of course, taking a dig at the notoriously slow Trachsel).
“Trax always pitched on getaway days. It was tough! He is absolutely correct about getting back in the game. Wives have no idea the time it consumes and the travel away from family.”
It’s not just wives. Your whole identity can get locked into working in the sport.
When my Cubs days ended, I didn’t look for another big league opportunity. With a family and young children, I didn’t need that life anymore. The nights … the weekends … the being “there” physically, but being “somewhere else” mentally because of something going on at work … the inability to ever escape the grind, since the baseball season actually is harder during the off-season than the day-to-day of in-season.
Baseball can be tremendously tough on a family. I was lucky, because my wife worked in pro sports and understood the life. The reality is that I saw too many good people have their family lives spin out of control because Dad wasn’t around very much.
My last full year with the Cubs (2011), I was away from the Chicago area 13 full weeks – a full one-fourth of the year. As much as I loved what I was doing workwise, was it really worth it?
Why did I do it as long as I did? I worked for the frickin’ Chicago Cubs, that’s why. I wasn’t just living my dream; I was living many people’s dream lives. When you’re part of it, the rest of the world can oftentimes be floating on the periphery.
But then you’re not there anymore, and you can reflect. And this is what I realized right away … All the hotel points and my annual awesome Cactus League farmer’s tan will never cancel out the fact that I missed my girls’ first season of AYSO soccer – as I wasn’t available to get there any Sunday. I missed their second grade music show, as I was already in spring training. I was out of town when they first began reading, and all I could do was listen to their excitement on the phone when they called me to tell me about it. I was on the road when they decided they were done with diapers and that they were big girls now – and toilet-trained themselves. On that one, all I could do was listen to the excitement on the phone when my wife called me to tell me about that.
In the grand scheme of things, my daughters don’t care that I wasn’t around for those events. But I did. As they close in on their teenage years, they probably don’t want me around as much as I am now. But they don’t get to make that choice … I do.
And no team should be making you choose between baseball and your family.