Originally created 02/29/04

LaRoche hasn't given up on double duty in the big leagues



KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche wants to play full-time for the Atlanta Braves - and he wouldn't mind taking on some part-time work, too.

An occasional appearance on the pitcher's mound?

"That would be the greatest," LaRoche said.

But this isn't the time for such revolutionary ideas. To the Braves, LaRoche is a first baseman - and first baseman only. As a rookie who has yet to play a game in the big leagues, he's certainly in no position to balk, so to speak.

"I would love to do both, but I don't think I'm ready for that," said LaRoche, the son of former major league pitcher Dave LaRoche.

In the minor leagues, the Braves allowed Adam to occasionally whet his appetite for pitching. He would do regular throwing in the bullpen to stay sharp, and even got into a few games as a pitcher. But most of his time was spent working on the offensive side of the game.

Last season, LaRoche batted .290 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. Now, at age 24, he'll get his chance to play in the big leagues.

The Braves envision him as a first baseman in the mold of Mark Grace and John Olerud, a guy who wakes up hitting line drives and scoops up everything that comes his way at first base.

"LaRoche is a young kid who can play defense with anybody," manager Bobby Cox said.

He's also a bit on the slender side, struggling to keep 200 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. LaRoche isn't the type to hit 30 homers a year, but the Braves figure he'll hit for average and drive in plenty of runs.

He better. Atlanta lost four starters out of their everyday lineup, including Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez, who accounted for 82 homers and 241 RBIs.

"He doesn't have to hit for power. He's just got to hit," batting coach Terry Pendleton said. "He needs to put the ball in play and give the guys ahead of him a chance to score."

Actually, most teams that scouted LaRoche in high school and college wanted him to pitch. But he made it clear that he preferred being an everyday player.

"At the time, they were talking about him being drafted in the first, second or third round as a pitcher," said Dave LaRoche, now a pitching coach for Kansas City's Triple-A team. "A couple of scouts thought he was arrogant. But I told them, 'Hey, don't you wish everyone in your organization wanted to play every day?"'

Not surprisingly, LaRoche isn't the least bit intimidated by the thought of joining a team that has 12 straight division titles. For that matter, he doesn't get too worked up about anything.

"I think I'm pretty laid back," Dave LaRoche said, "but he takes it to another level. In the long haul, that's going to help him. That's something I've always talked with him about. You've got to be same. Don't let the highs be too high or the lows be too low."

Adam carries that approach into the batters box, where his unorthodox stance - upright and relaxed - gives the impression that he's about to doze off. Of course, that all changes once he swings.

"Guys make fun of me all the time," LaRoche said. "They say it looks like I'm up there sleeping. I figure if I can put the pitchers to sleep, I can sneak up on them."



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