SHANKS: How did you feel about your defense in 2004?
LAROCHE: I felt like it was ok. I felt like it was probably the worst defensive year I've had in pro ball.
SHANKS: Why is that?
LAROCHE: I don't know. Gosh, I struck out like, it seems like, a thousand times this year and I don't remember one of them. I made a few errors and I remember every single one of them. That's just something that sticks with me – little stuff. I got two ground balls off the top of my head that got by me. One a pitcher hit right through my legs. I just didn't know where it was. I don't know what it was. I don't know whether it's because in the majors you don't have as many chances on scoops, bailing people out, because they all make good throws. In the minor leagues, you get a lot of people throwing it in the dirt. So maybe the opportunities weren't there like they have been. But I just felt like I should have made some plays when I didn't, and probably made a couple of bad decisions on some plays and stuff. It still wasn't bad. I'm not complaining about it. But it could've been a lot better. My hitting picked up toward the end, but my defense stayed the same.
That's something that I'm going to think about more in spring training. I never have in the past. I've never had to think about it. I'm going to put a little more emphasis on that.
SHANKS: So that's one thing you know you're going to work on next spring?
LAROCHE: Yea because the hitting is going to come and go every year. You're going to go through spots. But if you're defense is always there, at least skip can say, "Well he's not going to give up on defense. He's going to help us on defense. Who cares what he does at the plate?" That can save you, so there's no excuse for that.
SHANKS: Have you heard about the Topps All Rookie Team?
LAROCHE: Yea. I had never heard about it. That's awesome. That's pretty neat.
SHANKS: I know you're not a numbers person, but it has to be natural to wonder how much better your numbers would have been if you hadn't missed those thirty games?
LAROCHE: It's a little disappointing because my goal was to be Rookie of the Year. I never had any question I could do it, but then not getting the full year in, it was tough to do. So I would have liked to have seen my legit numbers on a full season just to see what I could've done playing everyday, if for nothing else just to tell my kids what I hit my rookie year. That's over with. That didn't work out, so we'll move on to next year. But I learned a ton when I sat and got to watch Julio play and just watch what all the other guys were doing and listen to them talk about certain pitchers or whoever.
SHANKS: Will that help you when you do become an everyday player?
LAROCHE: Yea. I really do. I never realized coming up how important it was to have an approach toward certain pitchers. I had never done that. I would go up with every at bat and not know if I had raked the guy the last time I faced him or gone 0-for-4 against him the last time I faced him. I had no idea. I'd go up and see the ball, hit the ball. But then I started listening to these guys and the amount of detail they put into it before the game with the scouting reports or the amount of time they put into the video room watching pitchers before the game. I started thinking that if guys like Andruw and Chipper and Julio and these guys are doing it, obviously it's the right thing to do. It's worked for them. There's got to be a little bit of good coming out of it. I started talking to them about that, and they would go over some of the pitchers and what their approach is, and it just makes you think that there's a lot things you can do in the game to help your chances. When you get at this level against that kind of competition, I think everything you can do is just going to benefit you. Every little thing is just going to put you one step ahead of the next guy.
SHANKS: I know you told me in spring training that you wanted to get this first season over, the rookie season to get over. It's that all about you being a rookie and having to wait a while before settling into that role you want as a team leader?
LAROCHE: When you're a rookie, you are labeled a rookie. There's nothing you can do to change it. The whole year – you're the rookie. It doesn't matter if you happen to be the team leader or the best player on the team – you're the rookie. So it is one of those things. You just sit back, you don't talk a lot, you just kind of watch and sees what goes on, and then next year hopefully there will be a new group of guys in and you're not labeled the rookie anymore. It's time for you to take charge of the team.
SHANKS: So you're going to feel that comfortable next year?
LAROCHE: No I'm not saying I'm going to be the guy that everybody looks at to carry the team.
SHANKS: But just comparatively…
LAROCHE: Yea, in my mind, I'm going to be that guy (eventually). And nobody can talk me out of that. Whether I am or I'm not, I'm going to go to the field everyday knowing that if I'm not in the lineup, our chances aren't that good of winning, cause they need me in the lineup. So I don't think I had that mentality this year every day going to the field. That may go along with the whole rookie thing, the little stuff they make you do. Shoot, it's time to win a World Series.
SHANKS: I would think that knowing how well you did do, knowing that the more you play, the more at bats you're going to get, Bobby's going to feel more comfortable, it's got to be exciting just thinking about what you could do?
LAROCHE: Yea, I hope. I feel like I can (be a good baseball player). Like I said before, I'm not going to brag and tell people I am going to be a great player. But in my heart, I really have a pretty good idea of what I can do in the game. I don't think this game at the big league level is a whole lot different from the college level. It's obviously a totally different caliber, way better players, but it's still the same game of baseball. You hear people say that all the time, that it's the same game. It really is. I think the guys that struggle that have the tools to be good are the ones that just mentally change the game. They told me before the season. "You're going to try to hit the ball 500 feet. You're going to do this and that and just go out of what you did to get you there. I did that the first half. I feel into the same trap. I feel like I can be very successful in this game. If I sucked the whole next year, when you talk to me next winter, I'm going to have the same attitude. That's the way I go about it.
SHANKS: One more question about the part about being a leader. Not to take anything away from Chipper, or Smoltz, or Andruw, who is older than you are, but when you look at the fact that Smoltz's time is coming to an end, Chipper's getting into his mid-30's, and knowing that there is a good possibility that guys like Francoeur and Marte could be a big part of this team for the next couple of years, do you feel the door is open for you to become that team leader you want to become?
LAROCHE: Well first of all going on Marte and Francoeur, I don't think they have any idea how big of a part they could have in this organization. I know you heard it and hopefully they've heard it. But they've got a chance, the two of them coming up together, to really change some things and really take over a leadership role, which is awesome to see. Man, I can't wait to see them both come up.
SHANKS: And by the time they get up there, you'll be a grizzly old three-year veteran.
LAROCHE: Yea I know I'll be the old man. Shoot, I hope I learn enough while I'm here to be able to teach them a few things.
SHANKS: But do you see what I'm saying about looking ahead for the future and seeing a window to possibly be that leader?
LAROCHE: And I fully accept that right now. I want that right now – to be that guy. I wish I could give them a fake Major League Player's Association card that says I've been in the big leagues five years just so I can be handed that role as a team leader because I feel like I play better when I'm in that role. So I'm looking forward to that. I hope it comes sooner than later, and I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen. But to be a leader on a team, the worst thing you can possibly do is go in and say you are going to be the leader and verbally tell people that you are going to be the leader – cause then you're just a clown. I've seen it before in high school and college – guys kissing up to the coaches, busting their butt doing all this extra stuff and basically trying to run the team to show that they are the leader, and it just doesn't work. You don't have to be the best player on the field. It's not something that you talk about. It just happens. Guys just respect you. So I'm not saying, "Listen I'm going to be the leader of the Atlanta Braves in a couple of years." But I want to be the go-to guy, and I think anybody that is competitive wants to be that. Hopefully if you get a team full of ten or fifteen guys that in their mind thing they're a leader, you're going to have a pretty damn good ball club.
Bill Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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