There's snow covering the infield grass and lining the base paths in Nationals Park. The entire first base side of the field from the visitor's dugout cutting across the mound and stretching into the right field corner is dusted white while right-center and the outfield grass stretching around to the left field foul pole are a spotless dark green. The seats are empty. It is mid-January, of course. Adam LaRoche's face is flashing around the park on all the scoreboards. LaRoche's eyes stare out from the narrow screen that wraps around the Red Loft and LaRoche is standing, bat on left shoulder, staring in from the mammoth center field board. It's just an hour before the thirty-one-year-old first baseman's introductory press conference. It was already announced earlier this afternoon that the one-time Braves, Pirates, Red Sox and D-Backs' first baseman would wear no.25 with the Nats, but he'll be handed his official Nats jersey and red curly-W cap when the press conference starts just after 1:30 pm EST in the media room at Nationals Park...
John Dever, the Nationals' Senior Director of Baseball Media relations opened the press conference by introducing Adam LaRoche and explaining that the decision to sign the 6'3'', 205lb left-handed hitting and throwing first baseman was, "consistent with the organizational two-way philosophy, as Adam is regarded as an elite defender at first base where he will positively impact the entire infield as well as our young pitching staff." D.C. GM Mike Rizzo made the official introduction, describing LaRoche as the Nats' "newest prize" and a, "player that we identified early in the process as a guy that fit perfectly for our ballclub, offensively, defensively, left side of the plate, great character on and off the field, good in the dugout, good in the clubhouse, good in the community."
LaRoche was then presented with his new Nats jersey and a curly-W cap that may have been a bit too large. The seven-year veteran who'll be the oldest member of the Nationals' infield this year, debuted in the majors in 2004, four years after Atlanta selected him in the 29th Round of the 2000 Draft. LaRoche said he learned a lot coming up with the players he did with the Braves. "Watching [John] Smoltz and Chipper [Jones] and Andruw [Jones] and those guys and the way they handled themselves and the way Bobby [Cox] as a manager handled his club, and to see that for three years was really as good as it gets as far as seeing how the game's supposed to be played and seeing how you're supposed to handle yourself on the field, in the clubhouse [with the] media, you name it. So, I came up in some pretty good hands, and I'm lucky now to be able to pass that on to some other guys."
LaRoche said that he identified Washington early in the process as, "...a place I wanted to end up. There was obviously a few teams out there in the mix," but he told his agent he would consider signing with Washington even before some of their other moves, "and then obviously signing [Jayson] Werth was huge. You put a guy like that not only in the clubhouse but in the middle of the lineup and playing right field, it's obviously a huge pickup, and I think...we keep adding pieces and this could be a really good thing."
The Nats' new first baseman said that though the perception of his new team is changing with the addition of Werth, the emergence of Strasburg and the team's continued development, respect from other teams around the league is, "...still something you've got to earn with going out and winning. It's definitely a good start, and I think I can speak for everybody here, they're just tired of losing and that's why a lot of these moves are taking place. I think as far as the respect from other teams and getting teams to come in here and actually be nervous and not looking forward to playing the Nationals is the ultimate goal, but again, that takes some time and just going out there and proving it."
"I've always said I like being in a position to drive in runs," LaRoche responded when asked where he'd like to hit in the Nats' lineup, "and there's teams where that's happened in the three [or] four hole, there's teams where I've hit sixth and had plenty of opportunities, so depending on how we work it, I think we can all help each other, help protect each other and feed off of that."
In an interview last week with MLB.com's Bill Ladson entitled, "Q&A with Adam LaRoche", the first baseman explained how he'd spoken to some former and current Nats about coming to play in Washington, and in particular, he said he'd spoken to Matt Capps and Adam Dunn, who said, "The direction they're going, from the front office to field operations, coaching staff, he said everything is first class and he totally recommended it, so when you hear that from guys who have been around, from guys you respect and guys that have been here and played here it makes that decision pretty easy."
Echoing the sentiments both D.C. GM Mike Rizzo and Danny Espinosa expressed recently about "defense never going into slumps" as opposed to the often-streaky nature of offense, LaRoche said he's "...always said that hitting is streaky, you're going to have your hot streaks, you're going to have your slumps, defense is something, especially I think in the infield and in my position, I have a chance to bail guys out a lot. I can make them look really bad, or I can make them look really good, and vice versa, but it's something I've always taken pride in. I love when those guys make a great play and an errant throw, to be able to bail them out and potentially save some runs. I think pitchers appreciate it just as much as the guy that threw it in the dirt. Obviously it helps them, saves them throwing pitches, saves some runs and ultimately wins some games. So yeah, it's something I work hard on and again, I like it more just the fact that I can pick those guys up as much as anything."
The Adam Dunn question finally did come up, with LaRoche asked if he put pressure on himself to replace what Dunn added to the Nats, but the first baseman said clearly, "No. I don't at all. I don't compare myself to Adam, I think we're two different players other than that we play the same position." "I play my own game," LaRoche continued, "I'm not going to come in and put pressure on myself to try to do what he did, and match his numbers good or bad, defense, offense and I'm sure he's the same way."
• NOTE: More from LaRoche and a Q&A with Mike Rizzo in which I got to ask the Nats' GM a few questions will be up later this weekend.