Leader-type LaRoche fills variety of needs for White Sox

SHARE Leader-type LaRoche fills variety of needs for White Sox
SHARE Leader-type LaRoche fills variety of needs for White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Much has been made of team chemistry at this White Sox camp. Guys getting to know each other, preparing to go to war together in six weeks. Leadership roles will evolve in the coming days.

On the day of the White Sox’ first full squad workout, Adam LaRoche looked the part of a calming, respected veteran presence that will be welcomed almost as much as his bat. LaRoche was a well-liked and respected teammate with the Washington Nationals. He’s going to be that same guy with the White Sox, who signed him to a two-year, $25 million deal in the offseason.

There isn’t a stat, metric, graph or chart to prove it, but players insist kinship, bonding and leadership are paramount to success. Especially in baseball, when everyone is together seven or eight months.

“That’s what spring training is about, form that core group of guys so when things get hard in July, August and September hopefully that team bonding is strong enough to get you through when things get rough,’’ third baseman Conor Gillaspie said. “We’ve lacked that maybe the last two years so hopefully with the moves we’ve made we’re on the right track to win.’’

LaRoche, 35, was added to hit, share first base with Jose Abreu and be a leader. He’s been very good at all three.

“That leadership role is interesting because I don’t know if you can walk in anywhere and be considered a leader,’’ he said after his first day at camp Tuesday. “That’s something that’s earned.

“If I end up in that spot, great. I’ve been there before and I love it. I love being the guy that people come to when things are going on, whether it’s on the field or off the field.’’

LaRoche, who noticed that he’ll likely be the oldest player on the team — is filling a few of the spaces Adam Dunn occupied – first base and DH, cleanup man, veteran. Both are popular, personable clubhouse guys but in different ways, LaRoche the devout Christian and Dunn the fun-loving generous lug who could show up at almost any backyard barbecue and fit right in.

But Dunn never met the expectations of his contract, was booed by fans because of it and – while he never let on publicly — wasn’t happy in Chicago. Under those circumstances, it was difficult for him to lead, yet he was considered a clubhouse leader.

Team captain Paul Konerko retired, so there is a void there as well, but even his stature wasn’t the same because of his significantly diminished production. Still, “you can’t replace Paul,’’ said Adam Eaton, standing below a Konerko baseball card pinned to his locker.

LaRoche was given Konerko’s locker space at Camelback Ranch, around the corner from Eaton’s and the first in the row of veterans and bigfoots like Gordon Beckham, John Danks, David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Jesse Crain and Chris Sale.

The Sox roster is loaded with newcomers such as Zach Duke, reason why the chemistry thing is a talking point this spring. Duke knows LaRoche from playing with him in Pittsburgh and Washington.

“He’s the same person every day, always positive,” Duke said, and “a no-panic individual at all times.”

LaRoche and Abreu, who will share time at first base, spent lots of time together on the field Tuesday, and the mutual respect was already evident, a good thing considering Abreu has been declared the man by Ventura even though LaRoche owns the Gold Glove. LaRoche said however the time is split is good with him.

Spoken like a true leader and team guy.

“You talk about leaders, even at his age a lot of people look up to him,’’ LaRoche said.”You can sense that talking to coaches and players. Work ethic is unbelievable. He’s a special player. We have a little language barrier there – I have to work on my Spanish – but I was able to reach out to him via text messages this offseason and he’s just a class guy. I really look forward to playing with him.’’

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