The Line in the Sand

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Most of us know that baseball is a kid’s game, played by adults who get paid millions of dollars. Despite all the money made professionally by Major League Baseball, at it’s core it is a game beloved and cherished by kids. No matter the popularity, I doubt this ever changes. Baseball has long had a tradition of it’s players having their kids tag along with the team in the clubhouse, as guys like Prince Fielder, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Brian McRae are just a few player’s sons who frequented many a trip to the ballpark and would end up playing the game at its highest level. Adam LaRoche was another of those sons(his dad was former pitcher Dave LaRoche) who would end up playing in the big leagues and over the last couple seasons has had his now 14 year old son, Drake, tag along for a large chunk of the season. Problem is, earlier this week LaRoche stepped away from the game after Chicago White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told him to limit the amount of time Drake was in the White Sox clubhouse this year. Many have taken shots at LaRoche for this action, but this development is all about priorities.

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There is a number of issues to bring up with this situation, so let’s start first with Williams comments on the situation and what he talked to LaRoche about:

“It is true I asked Adam to dial it back,” Williams confirmed that point in a phone conversation with MLB.com on Wednesday. “I felt 100 percent was a bit much. So I asked that he dial it back. I said I think even 50 percent is a bit much.

“We are focused on trying to get everybody on the same page on some things with regards to preparing for this season. And I don’t want that to be misconstrued as Drake was a distraction. I’m not saying that.

“You’ve been around this kid. He’s a great kid. And everyone loves him,” Williams said. “I just thought at this point in time, where we are right now, that 100 percent was a little much. So I asked him to dial it back.”

Alright, let’s start here. I think we can all understand part of this, as we all work jobs and aren’t allowed to take our kids to work with us every day. Some jobs allow you to occasionally bring your kid with you, but not most. So that part you can kind of understand, although the argument can be made that baseball is not a normal job. In fact, to varying degree’s this has been a part of the game for decades now. But at the least, we can understand not wanting a kid around the workplace 100% of the time. I will say that the oddest part of this is the timing of Williams request, as he decided to do this halfway through Spring Training. This seems like the sort of edict that should have been brought down either at the end of last season or before LaRoche was headed to Arizona. Deciding a few weeks in seems odd and weirdly timed.

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The other part that struck me was that in my mind this felt like a decision the players should be making, not someone from the front office. Apparently I wasn’t alone:

The fellow players are the ones who would have to be around Drake the most and if they had an issue I’m sure LaRoche could understand that and even acquiesce to it. It is the players clubhouse and what is allowed there is normally dictated to a large degree on what the players feel is appropriate. That being said, it has become obvious the players were not only okay with the young LaRoche being around, they stood up to Williams about it. This paragraph alone tells you quite a bit about how the majority of the White Sox players felt:

Ace pitcher Chris Sale reportedly tore into Williams during a tense clubhouse meeting after the decision was announced, with Sale telling Williams he isn’t in the clubhouse enough to know the deal. Sale wasn’t alone; players evenconsidered boycotting a game. From all reports, LaRoche had the OK of general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura to bring Drake around as much as he wanted. The reversal from on high apparently bothered teammates as much as anything.

A few other players spoke out in support of having Drake around, including Adam Eaton. It does appear that even if a few players complained about the situation(and there’s a good chance they did) they would have been the minority and definitely didn’t seem to be speaking for the leaders of this team.

Adam LaRoche, Drake LaRoche
(AP Photo/John Locher)

The other part I find interesting is how highly the team speaks of this young man. Drake is not ony there spending time with his dad(which I will get to in a moment), but he is also helping out. Many spoke of how he would clean cleats and fetch balls while he was there, so he was helping out the team in a small capacity. I know there are some that believe a young man his age shouldn’t be around a big league clubhouse, but I actually think this is great for him to learn some old school life lessons. I’m not saying the kid shouldn’t be in school like a normal kid, but he also has a chance to encounter something very few people do in life and will be able to come away from the experience with a different view of life than most would. There are lessons here of responsibility, character building exercises and simple occurrences that he will end up running up against in life. For instance,most of the players have to be at the fields by a certain time and be ready to work out before the game. Don’t most of us have to be at work on time, ready to go when we are expected to be there? Doing chores like the ones mentioned above build character and show he has to earn his keep while he is there rather than just hang around and play ball. Most importantly, he is learning the responsibility a parent has to his child and how vital it is to his development.

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To me, that is what this is really about. LaRoche is at a point in his career where spending time with his son is possibly the most important it has ever been. A ballplayer spends 7+ months on the road, zig-zagging across the country and a lot of that time is spent away from the family. What good parent would not want to spend more time with his kids, as long as he gets permission, which is what LaRoche did? I can not begin to express how much respect I have for Adam, as he has shown how high a priority his family is. As much as many people enjoy their jobs, family should always be the highest of priorities for a ballplayer with one. What LaRoche has done is tell the White Sox “my family comes first and if you can’t understand that, I will leave.” While he can rescind his retirement papers within a few days, the fact that LaRoche is willing to walk away from a job that pays him $13 million a season in the name of family speaks volumes. Many athletes miss valuable time with their children because of their job; LaRoche has been interweaving the two for years now and up until this point teams have been willing to work with him. I respect the hell out of him for that and wish more people did this in general, not just athletes.

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The other part of this is just how badly Williams misread his locker room. For a guy who not only is a VP but also a former player, to come down on this and not realize what it would do to the morale of this team is mind boggling. In just a few short days, he has lost one of the most respected players in the game and alienated his locker room. For a team that is hoping to contend, this is a giant fumble and one that could cost this White Sox team for quite awhile. There also seems to be a loss in trust with the front office, which doesn’t bode well for not only this 2016 team but also players who would consider coming to Chicago in the future. This misstep could affect the team now, the rest of the season and well into the future.

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I’ve heard people say LaRoche is in the wrong here, that he owes his teammates and that a kid shouldn’t be in a major league clubhouse. Honestly, this issue is more about character, family and one’s personal belief system than anything else. We all have a line that we aren’t willing to cross when it comes to juggling our jobs and our family. Some people’s line is farther away than others, but there is a line. LaRoche has decided where his line is and is standing firmly in front of it. We might all choose a different path for our lives and that is fine, but no one can tell Adam LaRoche what is best for him and his family. There is always a deal-breaker, and the White Sox found his. Your child should always be your top priority and parents that go the extra mile to spend as much time with their kids should be praised, not condemned for it. I commend LaRoche for his choice and agree 100% with his decision. As much as we all love baseball, it is just a game. Thank you, Adam, for that reminder.

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2013 Predictions That Will Probably Be Wrong By June

openind day 13Spring Training has started and before you know the 2013 baseball season will be underway. Spring might be the best time for most teams, as everyone is filled with hope and think their team could be THE team. Yes, even some Houston Astros fans. Or not. Hope springs eternal and Spring gives team eternal hope, even when they maybe should be more realistic. With the season only six weeks away, I will go ahead and try to guess how the season will unfold. Just remember when June rolls around to not point out my bad predictions(or bad guesses, however you want to word it) and realize that very few so called “experts” can predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes baseball so great. So without further ado, here are my division predictions for 2013.

al east

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1.Tampa Bay

2.Toronto

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Boston

This might be the hardest division to handicap. I literally could rotate most of these teams in any slot and wouldn’t really argue too much with the results. Tampa almost seems like the safe bet, since Joe Maddon and company always find a way to win and probably have the best rotation in the American League. I like what Toronto has done this offseason, especially with how their rotation will shape up. Dickey, Morrow, Buerhle, Johnson and Romero? If everyone stays healthy, that could be a lethal round of arms. The Blue Jays could also turn out like the Marlins did last year, so they might be interesting to follow. I hate putting the Yankees in third place, especially since they did nothing major this offseason and in fact lost talent, but they still have some good arms, and they are the Yankees. Unfortunately. Baltimore will slip, as no team can keep up the amount of luck this team had last year(especially in extra innings), but they still won’t be a bad team. Buck Showalter is too good of a manager for that. Boston is at the bottom of my list, but I do think they will be better than they were last year. Farrell will do fine in his first year in Beantown, but this team still doesn’t have the firepower they have had in the past. All in all, this division will be a fun one to watch, and might have the most depth of the bunch.

Royals-Walk-Off-Celebration-436x350AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

This pains me more than you will ever know. Let’s start at the top, with the Tigers. Detroit won the Central late last year, after Chicago held the top start for a good chunk of 2012. Not only did the Tigers get to the World Series, they have IMPROVED since last year. Detroit now gets Anibal Sanchez for a full season, Victor Martinez returns from injury and they added Torii Hunter to the team, which will help them offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. No reason to think the Motor City will be giving up the reigns on the division anytime soon. I’m going ahead and taking Cleveland second, although you should be able to flip flop them and Chicago in all honesty. I really like the moves that the Indians have made this offseason and the biggest acquisition has to be manager Terry Francona. Francona alone makes that team better in 2013 and when you add in Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Bauer, and the offense looks tons better than they did last year. The real question with Cleveland will be their pitching and whether or not they can get Ubaldo Jimenez back to being the guy who made NL batters look dumb. Chicago ran out of gas late last year, but they have a lot of quality young arms and somehow GM Kenny Williams always makes it work. It’s easy to say they will fall a bit this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t. I’ve got Kansas City sitting in fourth place and I will go into more detail obviously when the season gets closer. To shorten up my thoughts, the Royals have a lot of ‘ifs’ going into this year and they are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to work in 2013. That is really expecting some major changes, when not as much has changed with this team as they have people thinking. Just saying, you might want to hold off on purchasing those playoff tickets, my Royal Blue brethren. Minnesota takes up the bottom of the league, but I have to believe they will be better than they were last year. If the Twins play this year like they did last year, I think Ron Gardenhire might blow a gasket and up and quit before the season is over. A part of me is leery to count out the Twinkies. They are THAT team, the one who never truly goes away. Just ask the Royals about that. I know everyone thinks the Central is the worse division in baseball, and they might be right. But it is already way better than it was this time last year.

2013 al westAMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Another good division, with a number of teams that could contend for a playoff spot. It is also a division with one extra team this year, as the Astros move over to the American League and join the West. Granted, they were kind of held at gunpoint to move and really didn’t want to, but they are there now and a number of NL Central teams are a lot sadder because of it. Let’s start at the top with the Angels. I’ve got them in first, and will freely admit that it is partially because they are my second favorite team. Year two of the Pujols Project should help the team way more than last year, and they’ve even added that Hamilton guy to take some of the load off of Albert’s back. Oh yeah, and there is that Trout guy as well. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Texas is slotted in second, but they just as easily could get first. One wonders if their early exit out of the playoffs will motivate them or let it linger as the season begins. Even though the Rangers have lost some key players(Hamilton, Young, etc.) I love the young talent that is shooting up the pipeline for the Rangers and think they will be just as lethal as they were before. Oakland is in third, but it is hard to bet against Bob Melvin and company. This team has no stars, and yet had over 90 wins last year. They still have the good pitching that guided them to the playoffs last year and an offense that buys into what Melvin and Billy Beane are selling. If the team makes a push at the traded deadline they could once again win the West in 2013. The Mariners are booked for fourth place and I want to like this team more. I think they have a some really good young talent, but I totally don’t know what they are thinking with the offseason acquisitions. I mean, does the team really need 253 outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters? They do realize that those three areas only cover 5 spots in the order, right? It just doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, the Astros will take up the cellar of the West. This team is completely rebuilding, and as much as they should be credited for it, it will make for a very, very long season in Houston. Good luck, Astros fans. You are going to need it.

NL-East-Batting-Practice-featuredNATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Philadelphia

5. Miami

The top of this division will probably have a couple of the best teams in the league. They also might have a couple of the worst. Washington looks to once again see October baseball this year, as they have both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for a full season. This is just a really, really good team with lots of great talent and depth. Yes, depth will win you games, especially come postseason. Atlanta looks at a possible second place finish, although anyone who thinks they win the division might not be too far off. Great pitching, great offense, great defense and this team will probably be a wild card team when it is all said and done. The Upton boys will get a full season playing together and even with the loss of Chipper Jones might not slow down Atlanta as much as originally thought. I’ve got the Mets in third place, as this team seems on the verge of some really good seasons. It is a young bunch, but one with some great up and comers. I think they will be way better than anyone gives them credit for. Philadelphia takes up fourth place, and I am aware the team still has Halladay and Lee. But they also have a group of aging veterans(Utley, Rollins, Howard) and players who are bloated and overpaid(Delmon Young, Yuniesky Betancourt). Phillies fans, a lull is in your future. Embrace it. As much doom and gloom as the Phillies seem to be, the Marlins are in worse shape. Another rebuilding year. A rookie manager. A bunch of new, young faces. Don’t embrace this, Marlins fans. You deserve better.

pittsbNATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

The National League Central hosts one less team this year. Unfortunately for the other five teams, they won’t have the Astros to feast on anymore. Let’s start with the Reds, who sit atop the perch of this division. Dusty Baker’s team was right on the verge of getting to the NLCS this past fall, but those pesky Giants took that dream away from them. It was kind of San Francisco’s thing this past year. Back to the Reds. They are basically bringing back the same team, and with it probably the NL Central title. If I had to find something that worried me, it would be the switch of Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. I don’t get it, but we’ll see how it goes. The Cardinals will make it interesting for Cincy, but the loss of Chris Carpenter for the year could cause the Cards to go out and pick up another starter, although using someone like Shelby Miller might do just as good a job. I totally think this is the year Pittsburgh FINALLY gets a winning season, even if it is just a few games over .500. The baseball Gods have to be looking out for those faithful fans that have stuck by that team for so long. With Andrew McCutchen leading the charge, I see good things in the Pirates future. Milwaukee takes up fourth, as it seems the team just doesn’t have the pitching to keep it in the hunt. Rounding out the division is the Cubs. Now, I completely think Chicago will be better this year, especially with the great offseason they had acquiring pitching. But the team is still fairly young and will go through some growing pains. Stay strong, Cubs fans. Your time is coming soon.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado RockiesNATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. San Francisco

2. Los Angeles

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

What a hot mess this division could turn out to be? Almost any of the last four teams could collapse and make for a rough season for their ballclubs. Or they could go on a hot streak and give San Francisco a run for their money. The Giants are not only the defending World Champions, but with their team basically kept in tact, could be a favorite for another world title. Their pitching alone should have the other teams in their league worried. The Dodgers have the chance of giving their rivals a run for their money, but it could go the other way. A lot of money spent does not guarantee one a playoff spot. Ask the Red Sox about that. There is a part of me that can’t wait until Zack Greinke implodes in LA, but how soon that happens is anyone’s guess. There is a good chance it won’t be this year. The Dodgers could be interesting to follow, just to see how the team chemistry is in that clubhouse. Also in the conversation is Arizona, but they also had a major upheaval. The team got rid of their best player, and got rid of any players who don’t live by manager Kirk Gibson’s hard nosed style. This will either be a team who is fun to watch, or one that has to scrap to score runs. San Diego will get a reprieve again from last place, mainly because Bud Black is really good at his managing job. I hope the Padres are paying attention, since that guy deserves a more competitive team. Last once again looks like it will be Colorado. Some changes have been made, and one is curious to see how first year manager Walt Weiss does. I have to believe that if Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, this could be a much better team. But like all things in this game, that is a big if.

So there you go, my predictions for 2013. I’m sure I will be forced to eat my words within a few months and you’ll want to point out where I was wrong. You’re right; I should have just gone with a Cubs/Red Sox World Series! I’m sure Major League baseball and the Fox Network would just love that. Now….LET’S PLAY BALL!

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