“Jason,” Drake replied.
The LaRoches had stopped in Nashville on their drive from their Kansas ranch to Viera. They spent the night at the home of Aldean, just another of Drake’s grown-up friends. The famous country singer had pranked him in the middle of the night.
“Oh, no big deal,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We always joke about how Drake’s life is cooler than ours.”
You watch Drake LaRoche scamper around the outfield, raising both arms in celebration when another big league flyball lands in his black glove, and you wonder if he realizes how lucky he is. He is only 11, and at that age the only life you can fathom having is your own.
Since LaRoche signed with the Nationals in 2010, Drake has grown into part of the team’s fabric. He refers to Nationals players like pals from recess: Desi, Zim, Bryce, T-Mo. He shines shoes, shags batting practice, runs errands and generally hangs out. He was fitted this spring for two uniforms, one for practice and one for games. “The 26th man,” bench coach Randy Knorr said.
When the Nationals re-signed LaRoche this winter to a two-year, $24 million contract, it meant they brought back Drake, too. He will spend the entire spring with his dad, and tag along for most of the season at Nationals Park. For the past three years, since Drake became old enough to safely join him at the field, LaRoche has made his son part of his career.
“It’s kind of hard to explain that as a parent,” LaRoche said. “It’s like having your son and your best friend alongside you all day long, at work, which never gets to happen. I don’t know many jobs where you can bring your kid and not have to put him in day care somewhere. It’s been awesome.”
A baseball lifer
LaRoche himself grew up in big league clubhouses. His father, Dave LaRoche, pitched in the majors until LaRoche was 4, then became a coach with the Chicago White Sox. LaRoche and his brother, Andy, would play handball in the clubhouse with the starting pitcher, once he had been removed from the game, or a player on the disabled list. In spring training, they ran around the outfield with shortstop Ozzie Guillen’s sons, or played home run derby on a back field with Ken Griffey Jr., then a teenager tagging along with his dad.
Drake was born when LaRoche was 22, still a prospect in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system. LaRoche reached the majors at 24, intent on making Drake part of his career.
“I just remember saying I’m going to take him every chance I can,” LaRoche said. “Because some of my best memories came with my dad taking us to the park, whether it was spring training or during the season. It’s stuff I’ll never forget.”