LaRoche's baseball family began with dad
Third baseman learned game from 14-year MLB veteran
PITTSBURGH -- Andy LaRoche never had to go far to find someone to play catch with as a youngster, even if he was often the odd man out.
His brothers, Jeff and Adam, older by five and four years, respectively, would head out to the backyard with their gloves, leaving Andy with no choice but to ask his father, Dave, to do the same.
"I didn't get left out very much," Dave joked.
Following a 14-year Major League career that spanned five different teams, Dave played a big role in the development of three future baseball players: former Minor League pitcher Jeff, Diamondbacks first baseman Adam and Pirates third baseman Andy. A former left-handed pitcher, now the pitching coach of the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, Dave has passed along some of the lessons he learned in his playing and coaching careers down to his sons, who still use their father for that left arm every winter.
That's when the family gathers in Kansas, at Adam's ranch, which includes an indoor batting cage. There, Dave will pitch to his sons for batting practice, helping them get in the swing of things before Spring Training.
The sons sometimes even help him, too.
"A few years back, I had my second shoulder surgery," the 62-year-old Dave said. "I still threw to them, but I was cutting a bit on my throws. They still said it was great, and they even helped me stop cutting.
"It worked the other way that time."
Dave's last pitching appearance, in 1983, came three weeks before Andy was born, so his youngest son never got the chance to see his dad in action. But that didn't stop Andy's appetite for the game from taking over at a young age.
"I was just always around the game," Andy said. "He was coaching the whole time when I was growing up. I was always around the professional players, and I was always out with him, playing around. If I wanted advice, I'd go to him or any of the other guys."
Andy's instincts took form early, as he was often hitting Nerf balls and Wiffle balls inside the house -- until lamps, and other items, were knocked over, that is.
So Andy's mother, Patty, would take him outside and play catch as well. Blending right in with the rest of the family, Patty had played softball, and she relishes the fact that she's surrounded by the game.
"I love that they're all so happy playing it," she said. "I love watching them use their God-given abilities to do something they love. Most people would give the world for that."
There are, however, certain drawbacks.
"I do wish I got to enjoy it more like a fan," she added. "I see it from a different perspective. I see the ups and downs, I hear the boos, I see the slumps. I get mixed emotions."
But those emotions reached an all-time high for the entire family on July 31, 2008, when Andy was traded from the Dodgers to the Pirates, joining big brother Adam. The calls, e-mails and text messages poured into the family's inboxes, and the parents had to worry about just one game a night.
During that time, Adam, described by both parents as more relaxed than Andy, helped his little brother ease up and enjoy the game much more, becoming the teacher to Andy that his father was to him. After a rocky first season in Pittsburgh that saw him hit just .166, Andy rebounded in '09 to hit .264 by the time his brother was traded to Boston on July 22.
The duo made for a nice combination together, as Dave recalled the joy of seeing Andy make a nice snag on one side of the diamond and throwing to his brother on the other end of the play.
Their time together also reinforced what the entire family had been preaching -- not batting stances or fielding techniques, but encouragement and attitude. Sure, every now and then Dave will break down Andy's at-bats, looking for something small that might be off with his swing. Then, he will work with him on a game plan to attack the problem, tell him to take the good with the bad, and then enjoy what he calls the special occasions: watching his sons play baseball.
"I still ask him for advice, I talk to him about it," Andy said. "It's not so much coaching techniques as much as it is just mental, trying to stay relaxed. Just talking to him about it, he'll say, 'You know, maybe you should keep your head down, up the middle. Just stay relaxed up there. Just slow the game down,' and stuff like that."
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.