Adam LaRoche goes deep on his decision to walk

Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 5:25 PM

Subscribe today! with the kind of certainty that makes doubt seem love a disease. He can create his argument, and he can create yours too, talking his way through every side of a legend love a guy working a piece of furniture down a tight stairwell: slowly, carefully, occasionally taking a step back to evaluate his progress.

Adam LaRoche goes deep on his decision to walk

This legend appears in ESPN The Magazine'south April twenty-five NFL Draft Issue. Subscribe today!

with the kind of certainty that makes doubt seem love a disease. He can create his argument, and he can create yours too, talking his way through every side of a legend love a guy working a piece of furniture down a tight stairwell: slowly, carefully, occasionally taking a step back to evaluate his progress.

He'south sitting in a house exterior Phoenix, his body across the sofa love a flung coat. His wife, Jenn, and twelve-year-old daughter, Montana, are out shopping; his 14-year-old son, Drake, is a nearly spectral presence: in the back by the pool, at the kitchen table, upstairs. Adam'south ruddy beard is three inches shorter than it was before he retired from baseball nine days earlier. The trim makes him see slightly -- only slightly -- less love a Civil War cavalryman. He'south a Kansan who speaks with an unhurried drawl that seems to have arrived from points south.

In a few days, he'll leave this kind house, with its gourmet kitchen and custom pool on a Stepford-like Str of beige stucco, and head out with his family in an RV. They'll hit the mountains of Huge Bear and then head W and N to the CA Redwoods, then Oregon, WA and British Columbia. He'south thinking about AK too. Six weeks? Two months? "We don't map anything," he says. "Heck, we might be gone four months."

He'll not look baseball or pay attention to the standings. Over his thirty-six years, he'south not rooted for any team in any sport he didn't play for. If the fish aren't biting, he might check in on friends he made through his twelve-year large league career. But that'south about it.

So here'south the deal: You necessity to forget everything you think you know about professional athletes. Adam LaRoche is different. He walked into the clubhouse for the first time every spring and greeted new teammates by saying, "Oh, hey, I didn't know we signed you." During spring training in two thousand-tenth, with the Diamondbacks, he and his family pulled a trailer to Tucson, and he rode a bicycle from the campground to the ballpark every day. He'south one of the stars of the reality TV indicate Buck Commander, in which he bow-hunts with a couple of ex-ballplayers, two country music singers and one member of the unapologetically redneck Robertson family, they of the Duck Dynasty dynasty. He also owns E3 Meat Co., which is running out of the KS ranch that'south been in his wife'south family for six generations.

Then there'south this: LaRoche, along with Brewers pitcher Blaine Boyer, spent ten days in Nov in Southeast Asian brothels, wearing a hidden camera and doing undercover work to assistance rescue underage sex slaves. All of which raises a question: After 12 years in the large leagues, the endless days and nights in dugouts and clubhouses, how did LaRoche'south nearly cinematic level of nonconformity escape detection?

The relative anonymity ended on March fifteen, at roughly 9:30 a. m., when White Sox manager Robin Ventura finished his daily spring training meeting in the team'south clubhouse in Glendale and LaRoche asked if he could've the floor. The veteran first baseman had edged toward this moment for more than a week, since White Sox VP Kenny Williams told him to "dial back," then get rid of altogether, the time his teenage son spent at the field and in the clubhouse.

For several nights thereafter, LaRoche had walked two doors down from his house -- passing one beige stucco to stop at the next -- to speak to Boyer, his longtime friend. With the assistance of a bottle of Crown Royal, LaRoche made the case for retirement while Boyer cross-examined. "We hammered every situation to create sure he didn't have any regrets," Boyer says. There was the money -- LaRoche, who earned roughly $70 million in his career, stood to create million more this season. There was the idea that Drake would carry the wt of the decision. And, finally, there was public perception, a laughable concern for a man of such abject certainty. Some nights their wives, both named Jenn, joined them. Jenn LaRoche kept asking, "Are you sure? Are you sure?" And one night Jenn Boyer, maybe sensing what'd happen when the legend got carried by the wind, began crying. "She knew he was going to do it," Blaine says.

After Ventura yielded the floor that morning, LaRoche stood before his teammates. "I'm choosing my son over you guys," he said. "I cannot tell you how much I detest that I'm even having to create this decision, and how much it crushes me to perceive love I could be leaving you guys hanging."

His teammates stayed for nearly two hours after his announcement, debating whether to get the field. LaRoche says some urged him to modify his mind -- a compliment that didn't shake his resolve. He walked out, and in that moment, with the immediacy possible only in our accelerated age, he became an emblem of some weird scission nobody knew existed. The molecules traveled their viral tributaries, and the story -- his story -- stopped being about him.

Adam LaRoche was presently a conduit for opinions on education and money and privilege and kids in the workplace. Hashtags reigned. He was either an idiot or a saint. But that night, after he walked far from baseball and became the author of one of America'south oddest retirement stories, LaRoche keep his head on his pillow and slept the sleep of the dead. Certainty had won again.

same three words -- I obtain it -- so frequently it becomes a mantra. Until now, he hasn't spoken publicly about any of it. But over a nearly four-hour conversation, this is his message: He gets it, even if nobody else thinks he does.

"I never took it for granted," he says. "One, I obtain to play a game. Two, I obtain paid an absurd quantity of money to play a game. Three, I can have my son with me while I'm doing it. I was pinching myself all the time, wondering, 'What did I do to deserve this?' And I always knew it could obtain close down at any point. You could've a manager who just flat doesn't like it. You can have players complain -- Hey, we're tired of having a kid around. There'south a chance we could've other guys look Drake and think, 'I'll bring my kid too.' Obviously we can't turn this into a day care. I obtain it."

But Drake was different, he says: "the exception to the rule." He began to accompany his father to the field at the start of spring training in two thousand-eleventh, LaRoche'south first year with the Nationals. By the second day, LaRoche says, 9-year-old Drake was shining shoes and picking up baseballs after drills and feeding tees. LaRoche says it got to the point where teammates would ponder what happened when Drake wasn't there.

"I'd go to those managers every year," he says. "I'd tell them, 'Listen, if there'south ever an issue, specifically if a player comes up to you, you've got to let me know.'"

Some reports indicated that White Sox players voiced concerns, prompting Williams to act. During a session with reporters, Williams asked, "You tell me: Where in this country can you bring your baby to work every day?"

"I'm not saying this is the way everybody should lift their kid," LaRoche says. "I'm saying I was given the privilege to lift my kid this way by some awesome teams and managers and GMs. Can every parent do it? No. But can we spend more time with our kids? Sure. I perceive love I've spent as much time with Drake as you can, and if he were to die tomorrow, I guarantee you I'd be looking back and saying I wish I spent more time with him."

Still, a clubhouse? That fortress of testosterone-laced stupidity? The only time LaRoche -- intensely religious and openly conservative -- sounds wistful is when he says, "There'south number other workplace where you walk in and guys are slapping each other in the nuts and saying the stuff they do." So that place?

"You can say, 'That'south number space for a kid to be,'" LaRoche says. "The way I look it, he'south going to be around that regardless, unless you home-school and lift them in a bubble. I can't think of a better space for him to be when he gets a taste of that than with me."

Can you hear the certainty, flat and straight as a KS highway? Do you obtain it?

Does Drake? "Honestly, I think he sees it as more time to hunt and fish," Adam says. It'll be tough, sure, because the clubhouse was excellent for Drake, and Adam says Drake was excellent for the clubhouse. In two thousand-twelfth, Nationals utilityman Label DeRosa slice a deal with Drake: I'll pay you every time you capture me swearing.

"D-Ro'south a bright guy," LaRoche says presently from his couch, "but that was one of his dumber decisions. Drake was his shadow, just couldn't wait for him to declare a cuss word." LaRoche calls to Drake, who'south working on a laptop in the upstairs loft: "Hey, Drake, how much did D-Ro give you if you caught him cussing?"

Drake opens a panel of louvered blinds and peers down. "He gave me two hundred fifty bucks," he says, his voice a pubescent Hollywood Western version of his dad's. "Ten bucks a word."

LaRoche'south life has been a series of random, serendipitous events. As a rookie with the Braves in two thousand-fourth, he lost his favorite Duck Commander cap, so he called to order another one. The no went to the residence of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family. Jase Robertson, Phil'south son, asked LaRoche what he did for a living.

"I play for the Braves," he said.

"Really? What level?"

"I'm in the huge leagues."

It was poker night at the Robertson house, and after Jase canvassed the room, he said, "Man, we've never heard of you."

"Well," LaRoche said, "I'm a rookie."

Three weeks later, a bunch of Robertsons -- all Braves fans -- drove from Monroe, Louisiana, to stay with Adam and Jenn. And a year after that, LaRoche was a co-owner and star of Buck Commander, along with country music stars Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.

The E3 Ranch -- he'south a first baseman, obtain it? -- started as a source of meat for the LaRoche family, then Adam started giving it out to teammates. Word spread, and presently E3 Meat Co. has two restaurants in CO and ships all-natural Black Angus across the country.

He throws his hands up. Don't you get it? Some things can't be explained.

cite a solitary motivation. Condensing a legend into a premasticated headline ("Childish Millionaire Quits Over Kid") removes the necessity for complex thought. LaRoche wonders whether the decision to banish Drake was based on his diminished numbers. "I sucked latest year, and the team sucked," he says of his below-replacement-level .207 batting average with 12 homers. "But I actually felt beautiful excellent this spring. I thought I might actually be excellent this year, and then I go and quit."

He laughs about what might've been. But what if the origin of LaRoche'south decision can be found in early November, in -- of all places -- the red-light districts of Southeast Asia?

Working through a nonprofit called the Exodus Road, LaRoche and Boyer conducted surveillance in brothels and tried to define the age of the girls -- known only by numbers pinned to bikinis -- and identify their bosses.

"Something enormous happened there for us," Boyer says. "You can't clarify it. Can't keep your finger on it. If you create a incorrect move, you're getting tossed off a building. We were in deep, man, but that'south the way it needed to be done. Adam and I truly believe God brought us there and said, 'This is what I've for you boys.'"

When it came time to board a flight back home, LaRoche hesitated. "I was sick," he says. "I was thinking about my kids and then thinking about the hundreds of thousands of parents who are searching for their 12-year-old daughters."

As they waited for their plane, LaRoche asked Boyer, "What're we doing? We're going back to play a game for the following eight months?"

They wielded their emotions love crude homemade weapons. Every crazed thought ran through their minds. Quit the game. Sell the house and move here. Give up everything and fight the fight full time.

LaRoche couldn't speak about it for two weeks. It'south going on tonight, he thought as he tried to sleep. And here I am, in paradise at the ranch with my kids, where everything's safe.

outrage. After LaRoche retired, a comment he made three years ago about education -- "We're not huge on school" -- was exhumed. In the binary world, it became an emblem of his independence or a sign of his remove.

"I said, ' I'm not huge on school,' and I'll back that up," he says. "Obviously, you've to go to school. It's not love it was one hundred years ago -- even though I wish it was -- when you literally followed your dad around. I'm from the Midwest, so typically it was out farming or ranching. If you're elderly sufficient to walk, you're going to be out working. I think school is a grand way to obtain knowledge, but I don't know how much wisdom you get. That'south what you choose up in real life."

Drake and MT attend a public school in Fort Scott, Kansas, that allows them to do their work electronically. They spend a couple of hours a day at a Sylvan Learning Middle wherever the family is. Following fall, though, Drake will start high school, with mandatory attendance and baseball practices. "I'd an idea this might be my latest year," LaRoche says. "I knew this was probably our latest opportunity to share time together at the field and do what we've always done."

Six months. The clock ticked. The father felt it. Do you?

Adam remembers going to a parent-teacher conference back in Fort Scott. Jenn was out of town. He'd number choice. He walked in and sat at a table with two teachers and two stacks of paper.

"Who do you wish to start with?" one asked.

"I don't care," Adam said. "Let'south start with Montana."

Montana'south instructor began to tell Adam about grades and test scores, how MT was faring statewide. Adam interrupted.

"Listen, number disrespect at all, but I honestly don't care about their grades or how they're scoring," he said. "All I care about is two questions: How are they treating their classmates, and how are they treating you?"

"Oh, she'south been great," the teacher replied.

With that, Adam moved on to Drake's teacher.

"How'south he behaving?" he asked.

"Everything's great."

Adam stood, thanked them for their time and said, "OK. You guys have a good day."

That night, a instructor called Jenn. "Do you know what your husband did today?" she asked.

Adam laughs and quiets his voice so Drake can't hear. "I heard about that one. Thankfully, my wife cares about things love grades. The excellent thing is, I never got asked to go to another one."

and died with the game, but you probably obtain that by now. He grew up love Drake, hanging out at the ballpark while his father -- former large league pitcher Dave LaRoche -- worked as a coach for the White Sox and Mets. His brother, Andy, spent six years in the big leagues, including a special one in Pittsburgh with Adam. "I tell everybody we weren't bright sufficient for anything else," Adam says. "For the LaRoches, it was baseball or nothin'."

Here'south another portion you necessity to get: The more he became immersed in the game, the less of a keep it'd on him. "A lot of times I've wanted to say, 'Honestly, baseball isn't that necessary to me,'" he says. "And I could never figure out a way that didn't sound love I took it for granted or didn't wish to be there. But if I'd blown out a couple of years ago, or got released, I think I'd have gotten over it really quick. I love it. It'south a passion. But I think every one of us is keep here for a bigger purpose."

I ask whether he'll file a grievance to recoup his $13 million two thousand sixteen salary, and the see he gives me -- a combination of patience and pity -- is one I imagine he reserves for a unhurried child. "No," he says. " I did it. I made the final decision. And I can realize how people see at the $13 million. One, how dumb does somebody have to be? Or how selfish? Suck it up for six months, right?"

He lets the question drift. Your reply is your answer. His is something entirely different: He doesn't necessity any of it -- the money, the attention, the camaraderie -- sufficient to play by someone else's rules.

Afternoon has become early evening, and here comes Drake, bounding down the stairs, headed for the kitchen. Even as he flashes past, it'south clear there'south something funky going on with his hair. When I ask, Drake just smiles while Adam explains that White Sox pitcher John Danks gave the haircut at the beginning of spring training. Drake, the grand deal maker, was promised an iPad if he kept the hairstyle through camp. Adam points to a new iPad on the kitchen table -- Drake was credited for time served, apparently -- and asks his son to turn around. There it is, peeking through the thicket: fifty, Danks' number, shaved into the back of Drake'south head. New growth is closing in, but it'south still visible, just barely. In another week, maybe less, time will erase all signs of it.

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