Each year, options are picked up or aren’t. Players become free agents. Players move on, new players are welcomed in.
But it is still tough to take when you realize that players like Soriano and LaRoche will not be on the 2015 Nationals roster.
Especially LaRoche. I spoke to LaRoche before and after games during his tenure with the Nationals. Not every day, but on occasion. He was always a professional, always positive, always honest, very approachable. You enjoyed those talks and felt like you learned something each time.
Watching as a dad myself, it was special to see LaRoche have his son Drake around the clubhouse so much. After a game, Drake would be there next to his dad as he would talk about what happened on the field.
LaRoche was always forthright, honest and never sarcastic to the media. He would answer every question and explain the intricacies of the game with respect given and no paranoia as to why the question was asked, never taking anything personally. Not every player is like that.
I remember one of my favorite one-on-one interviews with him was on the top step of the dugout a day before the Nationals were to face knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
LaRoche tried explaining to me how hard it was to hit such a pitcher. He said in trying to get a hit off a guy like Dickey, you really had to just look for the pitch in your zone and try to hit it, the “Little League philosophy.”
It was an example of how sometimes there are no magic secrets to trying to hit a baseball, whether it is coming in at 95 mph or 60 mph. But just trying to hit is the key, pretty much what any of us would try to do in that situation. Of course, there was no way I could ever hit one of those pitches, but that didn’t stop LaRoche from sharing the strategy.
I always appreciated the way LaRoche explained the nuances of the game that way.
Keep it simple.
LaRoche also kept it simple when the team was winning or suffered a rare slide. He spoke in a quiet, measured pace. Sometimes I would try to get the microphone so close I would bump his beard by mistake.
Every year, he inevitably had to answer the question about how he always started each season slowly at the plate. Each year, he would again answer the question without being flippant. But instead he would explain how important patience was and how he would always concentrate on his mechanics at the plate, going through his same routine that provided him so much success in the past.
I certainly learned a lot about baseball and how a major league player is supposed to act when listening to and watching LaRoche on the field. He was a true National. I am sure his teammates will miss his leadership on and off the field as well. He was one of the rocks in that clubhouse. He set the tone.
Now it will be fun to watch from afar what his next step will be on the diamond and waiting for the next Instagram of LaRoche carrying around two or three mountain lions on his shoulders.