The LaRoche Friendly Family Feud Alive & Well

VERO BEACH, Fla.- After Andy LaRoche stroked a single to right in the game against Atlanta Friday, he rounded first and, as he trotted back to the bag, the Braves first baseman leaned over and whispered, "I was hoping you'd hit a double so I wouldn't have to talk to you."

That first baseman was big brother Adam and the way he really feels about his younger bro was shown in the quick "Way to go" tap he gave him with his glove just before the remark. Actually, the two had a two-hour get-together before the game in which Andy says, "We talked about everythng but baseball. I do that with my dad who's been critiquing me for some time now."

"Dad" is former big league reliever Dave and , while the family is close-knit, his competitive spirit has been inherited for there's a good natured sibling rivalry between the two offspring.

Last year it resulted in a bet as to who would hit the most home runs. Adam had become the Braves regular first baseman and Andy was at Vero Beach where he got off to such a start in the long-ball department that he looked like he'd not only be in first place in the LaRoche family, he'd break the team and league records, lead all the minors and maybe threaten every mark this side of Sadaharu Oh's.

However, with 21 dingers at the midpoint of the season, the Dodgers rescued the Florida State League pitchers by promoting Andy to Jacksonville. There, all this attention may have worked against him for, after sending a few more out of Southern League yards, "I began to want to hit a homer every time I went up there. It just fouled everything up."

So, a drought in that department set in as LaRoche the younger got way too pull-happy. He battled out of it somewhat, started using all the field and wound up with nine for the Suns, which gave him the family championship 30-20. Well, 31-20 if you count the one he ripped in the Arizona Fall League title game.

Along the way, it also made him aware of what not to do at the plate, a most valuable lesson learned. Which brings us to 2006. Any bets with big brother this time around?

"Oh, yeah, we'll bet on something but it won't be home runs. We're thinking of RBI's. "

Andy's also thinking very much about a lot more. This year, "I want to improve every part of my game," because he's not ever going to be content with being considered a one-dimensional ball player. That's not the LaRoche way. He's out to be a more polished third baseman and get that .273 he hit at Jacksonville more like the .306 he delivered at Vero -or beyond. Let it be noted that he ripped that single to right Thursday, going with the pitch, not trying to pull.

In the meantime, he's been putting one some batting practice shows in the big league camp for he's another one of the musclemen the Dodgers think may well threaten the ozone layer at Las Vegas. They also think he may eventually be making the All-Star game in the bigs just like Dad did.

A gifted family, that LaRoche bunch.