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Steady LaRoche Knocking on Fenway's Door

September 2, 2012

Andy LaRoche attended Grayson County College, one of the nation's best juco baseball powers. He would get his Masters in Ups and Downs soon after.

Third sacker LaRoche was the Dodgers' Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year in 2005. He started the 2007 campaign as Baseball America's top-ranked Los Angeles prospect.

Three seasons later, the former Keene Swamp Bat was named the Pirates' Opening Day third baseman yet he only got five starts in the second half of 2010.

"If there is anyone who has more highs and lows in a career, it's me. I wish I could keep that same approach," LaRoche mused on trying to maintain consistency in a game where four hit nights can be immediately followed by Golden Sombreros. "A lot of it is mental. When you find what feels right, try to not worry about what you're doing physically, but instead what you're thinking about at the plate and the approach you have mentally."

Even LaRoche's bloodlines epitomize contrasts. Brother Adam has hit 25 homers in a Big League season four times. Father Dave put together a 14-year Major League career, including two All-Star Games, with the help of "La Lob", an eephus pitch that made Jamie Moyer's stuff look like Justin Verlander's. Big Brother succeeded in the Majors on power; Dad succeeded on finesse.

Through it all, Andy LaRoche has maintained his own respectable career by remaining a professional. "Professional" is an overused word, but it fits LaRoche like a third baseman's glove. Staying positive, keeping a routine and controlling what he can control has brought LaRoche to Triple-A Pawtucket, on the verge of a promotion to Boston.

"A big thing is routine. Get a routine and stick with it," LaRoche advised. "If you can have that routine throughout the season, it is a huge part of success. I heard that from a couple of veterans- big time players like Manny Ramirez and Jeff Kent. They had a routine that they did everyday. If you have a couple of bad games and you're superstitious, don't change it up. Stick with it whether it's tee work, flips, when you get to the field you do your exercises. What you eat. Whatever you want to do, do it throughout the season and stick with it."

LaRoche has had success at the Big League level. He appeared in over 400 games from 2007 to 2011 for the Dodgers, Pirates and A's. Rookie LaRoche had a .365 on base percentage for Los Angeles in 2007. Two years later, he hit .258 with a dozen homers as the Bucs' starting third baseman. Last season, LaRoche hit .247- higher than the team's batting average- for Oakland.

But before he was a Pirate, Dodger, Athletic...or even a Bravo de Margarita in Venezuela, the Kansas City native was a Keene Swamp Bat in the summer of 2002.

"It was my first time playing around here in New England. (Keene) is a beautiful town," LaRoche recalled. "It was my first summer ball experience away from home. It was great meeting a bunch of guys from different colleges and having a fun summer. It was real exciting, the whole experience I had up there.

"I remember working for a construction company. It was hard but it was the first real job that I had so those paychecks were pretty nice! I had a great host Mom who took care of me. All of the guys on the team were a lot of fun. We won. It was a good time."

LaRoche started all 27 of his games at Keene, hitting .290 with seven extra base hits. His .393 on base percentage was second on a Swamp Bat team that went 31-11 and scored the most runs in the League.

"During the Fall in college I used wood. But it was the first time I had been in an all-wood league. It was an adjustment I had to make," LaRoche pointed out. "All in all, I liked hitting with wood more than I did hitting with aluminum. It leveled the playing surface. It really showed if you were a good hitter or not, and it meant a lot quicker games than we had in college!"

Andy LaRoche came to Keene from a family with a rich baseball heritage. Dad notched 126 saves in the Majors and supplemented his long playing career with an equally long coaching career. Oldest brother Jeff pitched professionally for six years while middle brother Adam suits up with NECBL alumni Stephen Strasburg and Stephen Lombardozzi on the Nationals. This upbringing expedited Andy's baseball education.

"Dad retired the year I was born but he got into coaching. Both of my older brothers played ball so all three of us were definitely competitive in pretty much everything we did whether it was Capture the Flag out in the woods, or baseball, or ping pong even," LaRoche reflected. "It was always a big competition between us. Having both of them play professional baseball and having me come up behind was a great experience and I kind of knew the ropes going into it.

"I knew what to expect and how to carry myself. It was obviously a real learning experience for me when I was growing up watching them and then when I got the chance myself, I knew how to handle it."

The Dodgers selected Andy as a draft-and-follow in 2003. Two years later, after hitting .333 in the High-A Florida State League, LaRoche was selected for Team USA in the Futures Game.

"The Futures Game was amazing. It was all of the players I had read about or played against in all of the Minor Leagues- the cream of the crop- and it was a bunch of big names like Delmon Young and B.J. Upton," LaRoche described. "Overall, it was a great experience.

"It was the first All-Star Game I had ever been in. I was named to the All-Star game (in Florida) but I got called up and couldn't make it. I made the All-Star game in the Cape but I broke my leg and couldn't play. So this was my first real chance to be in an All-Star game and play in it."

A 2008 deadline deal sent LaRoche from Chavez Ravine to Pittsburgh as part of the trade that sent Manny Ramirez to L.A. and Jason Bay to Boston. While 2009 was a better statistical year for LaRoche, he clinched a significant personal honor in 2010. That year, the Pirates made him their nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the Major League player "who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."

"I had a friend of mine in high school who had Down's Syndrome. She has a special place in my heart. I actually went to Homecoming with her and had a lot of good times with her. That always kind of stuck with me," admitted LaRoche. "I've always had a soft spot for Down's Syndrome and autistic kids, and I wanted to be able to do something for the kids in the Pittsburgh area, to give them an experience that they probably wouldn't have a chance to get any other time."

"That special experience includes hosting children from the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh and the Miracle League program once per home stand," wrote Jenifer Langosch on "LaRoche hosts a private meet-and-greet in the dugout prior to batting practice, introducing the children and their families to his teammates for autographs and pictures.

"LaRoche spends additional time teaching baseball fundamentals to the children, and he purchases game tickets and concession coupons for his guests. This is LaRoche's second season involved in this outreach program."

"It was great, just bringing them to the field, meeting the guys on the team, being able to watch batting practice from the dugout and then watching a game. It made my day watching how excited they got being around it," said LaRoche. "It was the chance of a lifetime for them whereas for us it was nothing but shaking their hands, talking to them for a little bit and playing catch with them. As simple as that sounds, it really changed their lives and did a lot for them. I loved the look on their face.

"Once I realized I was in the position where I could do something like that, I wanted to be able to do something. Hopefully it changed their lives like I was hoping for...Their hearts are bigger than a lot of ours and they're pretty much the same as us," LaRoche described his guests. "They love to have fun and are really loving people. I saw that with my friend in high school. I wanted to give back to them."

LaRoche quickly realized that as a Big Leaguer, he had a platform to make a positive influence in the community. He also knew that his career as a Big Leaguer was in jeopardy without a change in teams. The Pirates had promoted highly touted third baseman Pedro Alvarez and the fit in Pittsburgh wasn't there. LaRoche went to the Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan League during the 2010 winter to showcase his skills.

"I was only down there for a little over a month but it was a great experience culture wise. I had never been to South America," LaRoche commented. "The furthest I had ever been was Mexico. The fans were going crazy in all of the games, screaming the whole game. It got pretty intense, but overall it was a great experience. Margarita was a beautiful island. The beaches were amazing.

"A lot of the guys on the team don't have much," he reflected, "but a lot of them have more fun than we do. It makes you realize how little money matters to them and how it doesn't bring happiness."

LaRoche started this season with the Indians' Triple-A Columbus affiliate. He requested his release and signed with Pawtucket in the middle of the season. While LaRoche enjoyed his experience with Cleveland, he saw the potential for more playing opportunity in a Boston organization that had recently traded third baseman Kevin Youkilis. And he has responded positively to his new surroundings, smacking seven homers in his first 43 games with the PawSox.

"The biggest thing you can do is just keep getting those reps in whether it is in the cage, whether it is on the tee, whether it is ground balls in the infield or early work," replied LaRoche on dealing with a player's inevitable situation of not getting enough playing time. "Get out there and get as much work in as you can and try and stay hot for when they need you. An injury or anything can happen at any moment so you always have to be ready to play.

"If you come in and you're not in the lineup, continue to work hard and keep doing the things that got you to where you are. And you'll be fine. Your opportunity will come. Have a positive mental attitude because a big thing that they look at is the way guys carry themselves on the field. A lot of guys think that goes unnoticed but that is one of the big things they look at: if players aren't going well, are they still supporting their teammates? Being a good teammate is something that will keep you around the game for a long time."