SHANKS: Before the injury, I thought that immediately before the injury you were really starting to come along and find a comfort level. Can you talk about that time before you got hurt?
LAROCHE: I struggled a lot in April.
SHANKS: Did you expect that?
LAROCHE: No I really didn't. I really expected to exceed everyone's expectations. I've gotten used to doing that. My whole life…it's hard to say without bragging, and I don't want to brag at all.
SHANKS: You were just used to a standard of play you had in your career?
LAROCHE: I was used to being the team leader, the go-to guy, the guy that guys just can say to themselves, "Well we'll just jump on his back." That's the guy I love being. I loved it in college, in my few years in the minor leagues, and that's what keeps me going out there everyday. If I were a utility guy in the big leagues, I wouldn't have much of a career. Hopefully, I'll never have to do that. Who knows? I could end up being that. I don't think I could go out everyday knowing that I'm not the go-to guy. I know I'm not now because I've got to put my time in, but I really feel like I can be that. That's why I want to play as long as I can. That's what I keep going back everyday. I love the pressure.
SHANKS: You told me in spring training that that was going to be your biggest adjustment – knowing that as a rookie you could not take the role you loved to have as a leader.
LAROCHE: Yea. I forgot I told you that. When I sit out of a lineup, guys don't say, "Oh man we don't have a good chance to win tonight." And I don't like that. I like it when hey if you're not playing, guys are thinking, "Well we have to do something extra tonight." Which that's fine, I totally expected it for my first year. It didn't bother me. It gave me the chance to learn a lot – sitting as much as I did – only playing four times a week or whatever.
SHANKS: That was part of the adjustment too, right? Learning to be in a platoon?
LAROCHE: Yea. I'm not going to use that as an excuse cause that shouldn't be a problem. If you don't play one day, you can still go hit and still prepare yourself to be ready to go. I don't think that had to do anything with my batting average, my numbers, at all. I think getting off to such a slow start and getting in a hole like that just overall had the most to do where I ended up, and I'm totally happy with the second half that I had.
SHANKS: Did you feel comfortable early on at the plate?
LAROCHE: I did and I didn't. It was probably half and half, and that's not good when you're talking about hitting because it's hard enough the way it is to get on base, especially when you are as slow as I am. I'd go up twice a game feeling like crap knowing that I'm probably not going to hit the ball hard until I was feeling good.
The great hitters go up there every at bat whether you feel good or not you've got to make yourself believe that you're feeling good and you're seeing it good. They can honestly do that. I've talked to guys that can do that.
SHANKS: The injury.
LAROCHE: The injury was nothing. I landed on it. I got up and ran back with no problem. I got in there (dugout) and I don't think anybody even came up and said, "Are you ok?" cause it didn't look that bad. All of a sudden I started moving it, and the trainer saw me doing it. He walked over and he said, "Can you play?" I said, "Yea I can play." He started to walk away. I went through the throwing motion to see if I could throw if I had to and something popped and it just went totally dead. I said, "Hey Lovey (Jim Lovell). You need to get over here. Something ain't right. That wasn't cool. It was a pretty stupid play. I got a lot of crap from the guys about that. I told them I'm good for two or three of those every year. I had the famous bunt play where I ran back to the dugout.
SHANKS: But did that time off give you a chance to reflect on what you had done so far?
LAROCHE: No I honestly didn't think about it that much. I didn't. All I could think about was how good I was feeling before I went down. I think that's why I bounced back pretty quick after my injury to when I started hitting good was just the positive thinking the whole time I was hurt like, "Man I'm ready to go. I'm locked in." So I think that did help me get into the groove a lot faster.
SHANKS: But did you kind of realize at some point that what you thought you could do, you could do?
LAROCHE: Yea early in the year, in the first half of the year you think to yourself, "Man this is easy. I belong here. I'm going to play for fifteen years." You think you're the best. Then there are days you go out and you don't have a clue and you think, "Man I don't belong here. I'm not going to last." I think some people let that go through their heads more than others, but it crosses your mind. I don't care who you are, just speaking for rookies, I don't care who you are or what your mentality is, you just think that. "Man this is going to be it. I suck. I'm not going to hit anything." But then other days, you think you'll play forever. So that went through my head a lot at the beginning of the year, the negative thoughts, the positive thoughts, whatever. Then the second half it was pretty much, "Hey this is where I belong. It's time to start abusing some people."
SHANKS: You've always been a hitter who always goes the other way, but the competition was so much better. When you went the other way this year, is that when you did feel the most comfortable?
LAROCHE: Yea. Absolutely. Hitting off lefties, I really believe, helps me a lot. It does. All I think about when I hit off lefties is hitting the other way. I used to have such a problem with pulling off of them, that I switched. "Ok forget the home run. I'm going to try to hit something the other way." So it really just reinforces it with me when I get to face them, it kind of reinforces my mechanics. For not being able to do that all year, I kind of had to go back and say, "Well I'm going to have to do this on righties once in a while" When you're not feeling good, you're going to have to try to just slap something the other way. I didn't get hardly any base hits the other way this year. I didn't hit many balls the other way this year, which I definitely want to change next year. I made a lot of outs on balls that should have been hit harder the other way – not necessarily base hits but hit harder the other way.
SHANKS: It seems like most of your opposite field hits were doubles or up against the wall.
LAROCHE: Yea. Yea. How stupid am I? You've got to see that and know that it's something I've got to do more. I felt the same way. Everything I hit the other way that was hit hard, and it was usually a good swing, where I want to be, but I just would jumpy and start pulling a lot.
SHANKS: September is when you had that great month and when the power really came out. That's got to be a great feeling, especially when there were questions about how much power you were going to have. Did it feel good to show that power in September?
LAROCHE: Yea it was and mainly for what you said, for the people that doubted that I was going to hit any home runs. I'm a firm believer and I always will be that RBI's are far more important than home runs. Obviously I didn't have a whole lot of RBI's this year, but I'm just telling you what is important to me. I would much rather drive in 120 runs a year than hit 40 home runs and not drive in as many. So home runs are not on the top of my list. Obviously, they are fun because I hate running and if you hit a home run you don't have to run hard, which is nice. Other than that, it just came with feeling comfortable. It didn't have a lot to do with my strength. My strength wasn't up from what it was. My weight was down. I lost almost twenty pounds this season. I cannot figure out how. I eat. I was eating big league meals everyday. I lost like eighteen pounds from mid spring training. I got up to 210. I'm getting up right now, but when I got home I was at 190 at one time. I can't say it was stress. I never felt stress all year. The only thing that was stressful was my kids and them driving me nuts. I don't know what it was. The home runs had nothing to do with strength. It was just getting comfortable and getting a good swing on the ball.
SHANKS: That term that is thrown around a lot "in the zone" is correct isn't it? You can be in that zone where it just kind of happens.
LAROCHE: Absolutely. You get in a zone pitching, from my pitching days. You can get in an unbelievable zone pitching. You can never explain it to anybody. Then you can get in a zone hitting, and you can get in a zone playing defense. The whole game is about who can stay in a zone the longest. The ones who are in it constantly – that's your Hall-of-Famers.
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