GLENDALE, Ariz. — If anyone in the White Sox clubhouse took issue with Adam LaRoche’s son being there, catcher Alex Avila didn’t see it.
“I can’t think of anybody having a problem with him being here,” Avila said Saturday. “If someone had a problem with it, they faked it really well. It seemed like everyone enjoyed his company.”
LaRoche abruptly retired from baseball this week after Sox vice president Ken Williams told him his 14-year-old son Drake couldn’t spend as much time with the team as he was accustomed to, setting off an extraordinary chain of events that turned the Sox spring training complex into the epicenter of an international story.
“This definitely could have been handled differently,” Avila, one of the new Sox veterans signed to a one-year deal said. “Obviously if there was an issue, [before the season] would be the best time, not spring training. And probably the other thing, it might have been something for the manager to address. That’s the way I see it.”
If anything has become clear in the muck of this mess, it’s that Sox manager Robin Ventura has his players’ support even though his bosses haven’t given him a contract beyond this season. On Friday, Chris Sale, in a scathing verbal assault against Williams, said Ventura should have been the one to talk to LaRoche and teammates to determine if an issue with Drake existed. Not the team VP.
But Ventura was “handcuffed,” Sale said.
“If there was an issue,” Avila said Saturday, “the manager is the one who manages the team in the clubhouse. He’s with the team every day. So he has to make sure everything is running smoothly. Typically, from my experience, if there is an issue the manager is the one to address it. And I’m not sure if Robin had that opportunity.”
Avila, the son of Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila, grew up around clubhouses as a kid. General manager Rick Hahn recently said Avila has future coach or front office exec written all over him. To Avila, Drake LaRoche – who often drove the catcher from field to field in a golf cart – was no big deal.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” he said.
Avila has been around the team for four weeks and says he’s impressed with what he’s seen of Ventura.
“To be honest, I think he’s done a great job,” Avila said. “And I know the players in here have the utmost respect for him and what he brings to our team.”
If Williams’ actions lead to a mess in the clubhouse, it’s Ventura’s to sort through and clean up. And it’s worth noting that Drake LaRoche’s locker in the clubhouse was authorized by the front office, not Ventura – who didn’t mind having the kid around. “He’s probably more mature than most of the players,” Ventura said, perhaps only half-joking.
“I know what’s going on in there right now and that’s the important stuff,’’ Ventura said with a nod to the clubhouse when someone suggested his critics will find him in all of this.
“I’m not worried about stuff on the outside. It matters what goes on inside,’’ he said.
“It’s obviously a tough couple of days of getting through everything. But we’ll be fine. They’re a tough group. I’m glad it’s a veteran team, that they are able to handle it.’’
Catcher Dioner Navarro, an 11-year veteran and another new guy, said the clubhouse won’t divide over the LaRoche saga.
“Not a chance,” Navarro said.
But it’s going to take some heavy lifting by the manager.
“Robin is more than well equipped to handle the situation, absolutely,’’ veteran left-hander Zach Duke said. “He’s used to taking heat for us. He does a great job of deflecting attention off of us. Having been a player for as long as he was, the kind of player and role model he was, and he has been through all this stuff. He can steer us in the right direction.’’