Would you want to spend all day, every day with your children? Even if you didn’t, would you support a colleague’s desire to do so? That, in a nutshell, is what divided the Chicago White Sox’s management and first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche believes so strongly in his parenting style that he is walking away from the $13 million remaining on his contract rather than reduce the amount of time he spends with his 14-year-old son Drake.
While most Americans can only dream of earning so much, the expected split — LaRoche’s retirement is not yet official — underscores two things. First, Adam LaRoche clearly has strong personal beliefs about the primacy of family and deserves credit for standing up for them. Second, this is an example of American parents being pushed to stick within limited parameters while attempting to strike work-life balance. Lean too far in any one direction, and you may suddenly face strong pushback.
In most jobs, it would be logistically impossible for parents to work while also interacting with their children. However, for years now, Adam LaRoche and the Detroit Tigers’ Victor Martinez have shown by example that a man can be both an actively involved father and a professional baseball player.
The Bring Your Son to Work Life
Americans are widely familiar with stay-at-home parenting, which is how some parents manage to maximize time with their young children. However, in a post-agrarian age, we are less familiar with what might be called kid-at-work parenting. Families used to spend whole days together, both while working and relaxing. That typically doesn’t happen today.
That’s not entirely based on feasibility, it seems — because, apparently it is possible in professional baseball. During LaRoche’s time playing for the Washington Nationals and more recently for the Chicago White Sox, Drake has accompanied his father to work daily. Drake has been such an insider that both teams even gave him his own locker.
As LaRoche told the Washington Post in 2013, “I just remember saying I’m going to take him every chance I can . . . 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.’”
This is an example of what makes Americans feel warm and fuzzy about our national pastime. This is why we bring our kids to games, because, as the Nationals’ Bryce Harper tweeted, “It’s a FAMILY game #FamilyFirst.” But as the LaRoches’ latest experience underscores, our national pastime can look decidedly less warm if your dad is a player. Recall also the public outcry when the New York Mets’ Daniel Murphy took a three-day paternity leave to welcome his new child in 2014.
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The White Sox’s management is within its rights to establish whatever player guidelines they like. Further, if White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams truly believes that “even 50 percent (of the time) is probably too much” for one of the fathers on his team to spend with his son, Williams is entitled to say so. However, in his handling of the LaRoches, Williams missed two important points.
First, LaRoche’s teammates support him so strongly, they “nearly boycotted Wednesday’s spring training game because they were so upset LaRoche was leaving.” Second, other baseball players, especially free agents, who prioritize their families are likely watching closely and might be persuaded to play for that other Sox team instead, given that they
opened a family room that is connected to their clubhouse, complete with full-time child care, food and tutors, a source said. The room enables players to bring their children early and spend time with them. The children then can retreat to the room before games.
Many kids dream of becoming baseball players. But for the few lucky who make it, there’s a new dream. In the admiring words of the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, “That’s kind of the ultimate dream: to have your son in the clubhouse with you, let him interact.” If the teams are smart, some will begin to adjust accordingly, because Adam LaRoche isn’t their only working father.