LaRoche's blunder puts spotlight on attention deficit disorder
ATLANTA -- Adam LaRoche knows how it looks. He doesn't seem to be trying hard. He comes across as inattentive, sluggish, a little too laid-back to be a professional athlete.
When LaRoche was coming up through the minors, countless coaches and instructors told him to show more emotion.
"They would tell me, 'When you're playing, we know you want to win, but it doesn't always look like it," said LaRoche, the Atlanta Braves' first baseman. "They would say, 'You've got to fake it. You've got to fake some excitement. You've got show them you're giving 100 percent."
LaRoche's relaxed approach -- and a disorder that makes it hard for him to concentrate -- have come under scrutiny after the most embarrassing moment of his three-year major league career.
On Sunday, after scooping up a routine grounder that should have been the third out of the inning, LaRoche took his time getting to first and was stunningly beaten to the bag by Washington's Nick Johnson, who was hustling all the way.
The error allowed the Nationals to score four unearned runs on their way to an 8-1 victory, and led to LaRoche being benched for Monday night's game against Florida.
He came on as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, stayed in at first base and wound up scoring the winning run in an 11-8 victory after leading off the seventh with a double, hustling all the way to second.
"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking about it still," LaRoche said. "It was in the back of my mind."
Standing at his locker beforehand, LaRoche stressed that he doesn't want to blame attention deficit disorder for his mental blunder. He was diagnosed with the condition in high school, and it would be easy enough to stamp a medical explanation on Sunday's boneheaded play.
"I just need to pick it up a step," LaRoche said. "If I was going to blame this on ADD, I would need go get some medicine to treat it. But that had nothing to do with it."
An admirable stance, to be sure, but a leading expert on ADD believes that LaRoche should take this opportunity to address an issue that is surely having an impact on his life -- and perhaps serve as an inspiration to others with the disorder.
"A lot of people with ADD try to hide their symptoms," said Dr. Patricia Quinn, a Washington, D.C., pediatrician who has studied the condition for more than 30 years. "They tend to suffer in silence. No one knows they're having a problem. But when you're in the spotlight like he is, playing a game in front of all those people, the symptoms come out where everybody can see it."
Quinn believes this would be a good time for LaRoche to look into possible treatments for his disorder.
The first baseman tried medication while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago, but didn't like the way it made him feel. Quinn said there have been numerous advancement since then -- in fact, a skin patch to treat children with a companion illness, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was approved by the federal government only last month.
"I'm sure he wants to be able to function like everybody else sitting in the dugout," she said. "He wants to know what's going on, when he's coming up to bat, what the score is -- those type of things. I'm sure this is something that is more than just this one play."
LaRoche concedes that his mind occasionally drifts off to other things while he's in the field or sitting in the dugout. Playing a sport which comes with so much idle time only makes things worse.
While ADD and ADHD are normally associated with children who have trouble sitting still in class, about a quarter of the cases don't show those sort of symptoms. For them, it's simply more difficult to stay focused.
They forget things. They're disorganized. They're inattentive to what others are saying.
Even within that group, there's another set of symptoms known as "sluggish cognitive tempo," according to Quinn. "That's people who go at their own pace. They get there when they get there," she said.
LaRoche fits that definition to a T.
Even before Sunday, he had a disturbing habit of taking his time getting to first after fielding grounders. He had always been able to time it just right -- getting his foot to the bag a split-second ahead of the runner -- but that tactic didn't work Sunday when he turned his back on Johnson after scooping up a routine grounder in front of the base.
While LaRoche jogged leisurely to make the expected out, Johnson ran hard all the way. Television replays were inconclusive about which one got there first, but all that mattered was what the umpire ruled.
The Nationals took advantage of the blunder, putting together three straight hits that turned a 1-0 game into a 5-0 blowout. The rest of the way, LaRoche was booed loudly by the home fans every time he came up to bat or made a fielding play.
He was contrite afterward. First, he headed to manager Bobby Cox's office to apologize. He did the same with starting pitcher John Thomson. And he didn't complain a bit about being benched for the opener of a four-game series against the Marlins.
"I probably would do the same thing," LaRoche said.
Cox isn't the type to hold grudges. He once benched Andruw Jones in the middle of an inning for not hustling after a ball, but the two have nothing but respect for each other these days. The manager expects the same thing to happen with LaRoche after he serves his penalty.
"He's a great kid," Cox said. "If he was a dog, it'd be a different story. It's just, every once in a while, things like that happen."
LaRoche vowed that it will never happen again. He also conceded -- somewhat grudgingly -- that maybe he should call up that doctor who treated him previously for ADD.
"Maybe I'll check into it," he said. "That was two years ago. I'm sure they've come a long way since then."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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