January 2011

The Buck Commander: Adam LaRoche

It takes a special breed to love bow hunting–the sport where you spend 99 percent of the time questioning why you are uncomfortably sitting in a tree stand just to see a deer–but Adam LaRoche is the right person for the job. He is very even-keeled and rarely shows any emotions, traits that are imperative to watching paint dry and hunting, two things that seem synonymous at times. He speaks slowly with a southern drawl and a monotone voice–as if he was giving a lecture on quantum chemistry. He just doesn’t like talking about himself or his accomplishments on the baseball field–the numbers speak for themselves. That being said, he sure lights up the room when he talks about Buck Commander, the company he co-owns with a few talented baseball players: Chipper Jones, Ryan Langerhans, Tom Martin, Matt Duff and Duck Commander’s Willie Robertson.

 “It is our hobby,” LaRoche said, “but it is also a pretty serious passion.”


Adam LaRoche deer tattoo.JPGSerious enough that LaRoche made sure the rest of the Buck Commander team was as committed as he is. He persuaded the group–cameraman included–to get the brand logo tattooed somewhere on their body while they were all in Las Vegas together… proof what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

It is tough to determine if Adam LaRoche is a hunter who plays baseball or a baseball player that hunts. He does both equally well and partakes in one almost as often as the other. He has been plying his passion since he was a little kid but the wheels didn’t get turning on the Buck Commander until 2004.

LaRoche lost his lucky Duck Commander hat, nothing about that actual hat made it lucky but he needed a replacement. He couldn’t find the hat online so he called the one business number they listed on the Duck Commander web site. He envisioned he would be calling some immaculate headquarters with gold phones and airline-long wait times. Well, he didn’t quite envision the gold phones, but he expected a secretary to answer the phone.

“They are the world famous Duckmen,” he said.

Much to his surprise, he was greeted by Jase Robertson, one of the Duckmen. The number was Jase’s house number. Any business number that is the house number tells you one of two things: a) the business isn’t doing well or b) their No. 1 goal is customer service. Let’s just assume they love their customers.

“I told him I played baseball for the Atlanta Braves,” said LaRoche, retelling the story. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I am sure you do. I have never heard of Adam LaRoche.’ I was a rookie then. He said they didn’t make the hat anymore but thought he had one in his closest.”

Sure enough, Jase sent LaRoche one of his used, dirty hats with sweat stains and hair still attached.  What started with a lost hat, quickly turned into a friendship that led to an idea and finally a TV show on the Outdoor Channel.

“Wow, that was seven years ago. Now we are making a show, DVDs and a few pretty cool products.”

And they are shooting some pretty big deer, the type of deer that would be the wrestling hybrid of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.


The Buck Commander Team.jpg“We want to get across the point that we hunt some really good farms,” LaRoche said. So they aren’t tied up or slipped a little HGH?

“People have no idea,” he said. “The days that go by without seeing deer… There aren’t enough minutes to show every miserable hunt so you end up seeing the good ones.” Thank you for sparing us the monotony of hunting.

Tyler Clippard often talks about the similarities between golf and baseball–it turns out that baseball can be used as a metaphor for just about anything in life as long it requires patience, endurance and a little bit of adversity. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Adam LaRoche sees a few similarities between bow hunting and baseball.

“I think it is all about being competitive,” LaRoche said who spends the majority of his offseason bow hunting–one of the more arduous and time consuming styles of hunting. “It is a very passionate, grueling and relentless sport. You can go out for a month straight and never draw the bow back. You have to have it in you. It is the same in baseball when you play seven days a week–if there isn’t something driving you deep down, then you aren’t going to make it. We come across guys all the time in the Minors that have all the talent in the world but they don’t want it bad enough. It is the same thing in hunting… it can be a real pain sometimes.”

Yogi Berra is known for his Yogisms and in the 2006 Aflac commercial he says, “If you don’t have it, that’s why you need it.” If you haven’t seen the Buck Commander, that’s why you need to. If you like baseball, you’ll like the show. If you like deer hunting, you’ll love it. If you like deer–especially trophy bucks–you will salivate like Pavlov’s dog during it. If you don’t like any of those three things… why are you reading this blog?

Mike Rizzo Conference Call: Jan. 19th

On January 19th, Nationals EVP and GM Mike Rizzo spoke with reporters to discuss the acquisition of pitcher Tom Gorzelanny and super utility man Jerry Hairston, Jr.


Click here to listen to the call (.mp3) to hear Rizzo’s take on how the two newest Nationals fit into the team’s plans in 2011.

Riggleman visits Frederick Memorial Hospital


Jim Riggleman FMH Visit.JPGEarlier this week, Nats Manager Jim Riggleman teamed-up with Screech and toured the newly-opened Pediatric Emergency Department at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

 

A native of Rockville, Md., Riggleman didn’t hesitate when presented the opportunity to visit the facility by his former Frostburg State University teammate Ken Coffey, who now serves as president/chief development officer of the hospital.

 

“I’ve got a lot of family up here,” Riggleman said. “My mother was treated here. It’s a great hospital. I’m just really appreciative of how well my mother and other members of my family have been treated here through the years, so I got the opportunity to come back up here and jumped at that.”

 

During the visit, the Nationals skipper signed autographs and spoke with patients, their families and staff members for nearly an hour before attending a speaking engagement with the Rotary Club of Frederick.

Nationals acquire Tom Gorzelanny, sign Jerry Hairston Jr.


Tom Gorzelanny 2.jpgThe Nationals entered the offseason with starting pitching as their top priority. They took one step closer to achieving their goal by adding left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for three Minor Leaguers: outfielder Michael Burgess, right-handed pitcher A.J. Morris and left-handed pitcher Graham Hicks.

 

The 28-year-old will join a pitching staff that has plenty of depth but doesn’t have a true ace and has only one 10-game winner from 2010, Livan Hernandez. It will be interesting to see how the Nationals’ rotation takes shape from now until the start of the season. Of course, there is plenty of time between now and then for trades and unforeseen injuries to occur, but right now, there are eight solid candidates for five spots: John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Yunesky Maya, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and Gorzelanny.

 

Gorzelanny is 36-37 with a 4.68 ERA in 118 games/95 starts spanning six Major League seasons with Chicago (NL) and Pittsburgh. Gorzelanny posted his finest season in 2007, when he finished 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in a career-best 32 starts for Pittsburgh. Last season, in 29 games (23 starts) with the Cubs, Gorzelanny went 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA and was touched for just 11 home runs in 136.1 innings.

 


Jerry Hairston Jr. 1.jpgJerry Hairston Jr. signs one-year deal

The Nats also agreed to a one-year contract with super utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston Jr. will fill the void left by Willie Harris as a jack of all trades off of the bench. During his career, he has played every defensive position except pitcher and catcher, with the bulk of his innings coming at second base, shortstop and center field.

 

Hairston Jr. is a career .257 (927-for-3608) hitter with 192 doubles, 59 home runs and 341 RBI in 1148 games with San Diego, New York (AL), Cincinnati, Texas, Chicago (NL) and Baltimore spanning 13 Big League seasons.

 

The 34-year-old Hairston Jr. has hit a career-best 10 home runs in back-to-back seasons, including 2010, when he received 430 at-bats from the Padres and responded by batting  .244 with 13 doubles and a career-high 50 RBI.

Nats introduce their newest team member: Adam LaRoche


Adam LaRoche introduced at Nats Park.JPGIt has been one of those hunting years for Adam LaRoche. For all the non-hunters, it just means he hasn’t had a very productive hunting season–to be clear, those are by his own standards. He has only bagged a few bucks. Keep in mind, most hunters would consider it a prosperous year. He just hasn’t seen many deer and the ones he has seen, they aren’t big enough–again, by his own standards. The adage, “It’s brown, it’s down,” doesn’t apply to him. He lets 10-point bucks walk. “I used to have the philosophy when I was a little kid but not anymore.”  He doesn’t want Bambi’s Dad, he wants Bambi’s great, great Grandpa. When you have standards like that, all you can do is get some friends together and start a TV show… and call it
Buck Commander. (We will speak more in-depth about this next week.)

It has been one of those years in the tree stand and it was one of those days on the press conference stage too. LaRoche was formally introduced to reporters today at Nationals Park but it didn’t go without a minor hiccup, make that two. The Nationals hat they had for him was a size 7 3/4, about two sizes two big. The hat would have even had trouble fitting if he had hair like Tom Brady or Justin Bieber–sorry for being redundant. “I got a big head, but not that big,” he said.

After he put his oversized hat on, he started to button up his jersey incorrectly. He put the first button through the second hole, the second button through the third hole, etc. It was an insignificant mistake and that’s why he never noticed it but it was big enough that everyone could see it. After about 30 seconds of his wife desperately trying to get his attention to notify him of the error–and she did–he corrected the problem. It was just one of those funny incidents that allowed everyone to laugh. If those are the only two errors that happen during his time here, it will have been a very successful stint–even by LaRoche standards. Everyone is hoping for one of those years for LaRoche; the kind of year where he wins a Gold Glove and helps propel the Nats in the standings.

Manager Jim Riggleman is still scribbling lineups on napkins so the 3-4-5 combination is still not set in stone but LaRoche will fit right into the middle of the Nats lineup with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. It will depend who’s hot, who’s not or if Riggleman wants to go right-left-right.


Adam LaRoche introduced at Nats Park 2.JPGLaRoche is the second marquee player the Nats have signed this offseason–Werth being the first back in December–and it is all part of GM Mike Rizzo’s long-term plan of building a high-powered, defensively-sound club. It is also changing the perception of the Washington Nationals.

“I think it has helped,” LaRoche said. “It is still something you have to go out and earn. You have to do it with winning. It is definitely a good start. I think I can speak for everyone here. They are just tired of losing and that’s why a lot of these moves are taking place and moving in a positive direction.”

The best way to describe Adam LaRoche is as Adam Dunn’s less boisterous brother. Aside from their looks, it is hard to believe they aren’t from the same gene pool. They are both very low-key and even-keeled. They live and breathe hunting, and play the same position. LaRoche will immediately fill the void left by Dunn when he signed this offseason with the White Sox. They are two different players but they are both a model of consistency. LaRoche has hit at least 20 home runs that past six seasons and is good for a .270 average, .350 on-base percentage, 20 to 25 home runs, and 85 to 100 RBI a year. They aren’t Adam Dunn numbers but what he lacks with the bat he makes up with the glove.

“I don’t compare myself to Adam,” LaRoche said. “We are two different players other than that we play the same position… I play my own game.  I am not going to put pressure on myself to try to do what he did and match his numbers–good or bad, defense, offense–and I am sure he is the same way.”

LaRoche won’t try to be Dunn. He is just going to be the player that he has been the past seven seasons who has got the job done. It’s just like hunting in many ways. You can sit for a week straight and not see anything but then you see the trophy buck and you quickly forget about the past week. The Nationals will never completely forget about Dunn, but LaRoche can help minimize the loss.

One more thing–There is no question Dunn diligently worked each day to improve his defense at first base and the proof was in his progress. At the same time, he was still like an offensive lineman at first base and that limited his range. It cost the Nats runs. So if there is one difference between the two: Dunn hits home runs and LaRoche robs runs.

“I have always said, hitting is streaky,” LaRoche said. “You are going to have your hot streaks and you are going to have your slumps. Defense is special–especially in the infield and at my position. I have the chance to bail guys out a lot. I can make them look really bad or really good, and vice versa. It is something I have always taken pride in. I love when those guys make a great play and an errant throw and be able to bail them out and save a couple of runs. I think pitchers appreciate it just as much as the player who threw the ball in the dirt. It is something I work hard on.”

Nats officially ink Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal


Adam LaRoche signs.jpgThe Nats have finally found their new first baseman, officially signing Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract. The left-handed hitting LaRoche was the best of the remaining free agent first basemen: Carlos Pena signed with the Cubs and Derek Lee signed a one-year contract with the O’s. LaRoche will fit right into the middle of the Nats lineup with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in some 3-4-5 combination. He is a defensive upgrade from Adam Dunn–he had the third best ultimate zone rating (UZR) amongst first basemen in 2010, a measure to determine how many runs a player saves. He isn’t bad with the bat either.

 

LaRoche is a career .271 (933-for-3437) hitter with 242 doubles, 161 home runs and 569 RBI in 989 Big League games. In seven campaigns with Arizona, Atlanta, Boston and Pittsburgh, LaRoche has posted an .827 OPS thanks to career on-base and slugging percentages of .339 and .488, respectively.

 

LaRoche is one of just five Big Leaguers to have hit 20-plus home runs as a first baseman each of the last six seasons. He is joined on this list by Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko and Ryan Howard.

 

Last season in arguably his finest offensive effort to date, LaRoche reached the 100-RBI plateau for the first time, hitting .261 with 37 doubles and 25 home runs and 100 RBI for the Diamondbacks.

 

The 31-year-old LaRoche has played in at least 140 games five of his six complete Big League seasons. He played in 150 and 151 contests each of the last two campaigns, respectively. In addition to the aforementioned six straight 20-plus homer seasons, LaRoche has also legged out 30 or more doubles five straight years.

 

He is an avid hunter and past teammates have nothing but nice things to say about him. He has a vivacious personality similar to Adam Dunn, so it should not be a problem for him to fit into the Nationals clubhouse. He will be introduced sometime next week at Nationals Park but for everything else you need to know about him read Dejan Kovacevic‘s LaRoche article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007.

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