Originally created 08/24/04

LaRoche calm on and off field



ATLANTA - When first baseman Adam LaRoche talks, reporters have to lean in to hear the soft-spoken rookie's mouthful.

LaRoche didn't have to listen hard, though, when third baseman Chipper Jones treated him to an on-the-field tonguelashing Aug. 6 after he struck out with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

Over his next 12 at bats, he hit three home runs - including his first major-league multi-homer game five days later against the Brewers.

The 24-year-old said he hasn't made any physical change to lead to his recent improvement.

"It comes down to concentrating. That's what he was trying to teach me," LaRoche said.

Jones said the confrontation certainly got the rookie's attention.

"It seems like the point hit home," Jones said. "He's certainly doing his job the way we all expect him to."

Heralded for his solid defense and smooth, fluid swing, LaRoche was picked by some baseball experts as a preseason Rookie of the Year contender.

But he hasn't even been the Braves' best rookie.

He's batting a solid .254, but his play has been somewhat overshadowed by reserve second baseman Nick Green and part-time left fielder Chuck Thomas.

Unlike his fellow rookie teammates, LaRoche will rarely crack a smile on the field. He didn't seem to relish his first multihomer game until Jones joked that he should chew the rookie out more often.

LaRoche insists he's not bashful or intimidated by the big league spotlight. Instead, he says his even temper is just part of his demeanor.

Even the nickname manager Bobby Cox has adopted for his first baseman, Ol' Roachy, exudes a quiet confidence about the lanky infielder.

"I don't know what it will take to get me excited - maybe winning the World Series," he said. "I've got a fire burning inside that people don't see. I just don't wear my emotions on my sleeve."

Braves fans saw that passion - if somewhat awkwardly - when LaRoche was sidelined for five weeks after he broke his left collarbone in May barreling into Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal trying to score on a fielder's choice.

LaRoche splits time at first base with baseball's oldest player, 45-year-old Julio Franco, who critiques him from the bench.

"I couldn't ask for a better guy to platoon with," he said. "Julio doesn't just sit back and enjoy his off days. He helps me out."