Here is a heart-strings tugger for you as we move closer to Opening Day in major-league baseball (an event that should receive Upper-Case status as a cultural holy day, as I am sure our own Bobby Ross Jr. would agree).
So Adam LaRoche walked away from his Chicago White Sox contract worth $13 million rather than yield to demands by management -- as in team president Ken Williams -- to drastically cut the amount of time his 14-year-old son Drake spent with him and the leaders of his team during workouts and in the clubhouse.
Sports fans, you have to be blind as a bat not to see the religion ghost in this one.
I suspect that many sports-news scribes see the religion element, but they are hesitating to suggest that it may have been a factor in this buzz-worthy clash between this dad and his team. Here is a chunk of the relevant report from the frequently faith-lite ESPN team:
LaRoche, 36, announced his retirement Tuesday, hinting at the reason behind his decision with the hashtag #familyfirst in a tweet posted that day.
When news of the reason became public Wednesday, Williams addressed the issue with reporters and said that kids are still permitted in the White Sox clubhouse, but they shouldn't be there every day, saying no job would allow that.
"Sometimes you have to make decisions in this world that are unpopular," he said.
The White Sox have always encouraged players to bring their kids into the clubhouse and onto the field, according to Williams. But he said he thought Drake LaRoche was there too much.
That #familyfirst tag is a clue, don't you think? And this tweet referenced in the ESPN report?
I also wondered: Is there any chance that Drake LaRoche is -- since he spends so much time with his father -- being home-schooled by his parents and others helping them? Might that be a source of tension for some leaders in Chicago?
Next question: Was there dissension in the team linked to his presence? Was Drake a distraction to others? If so, those voices are remaining silent. The ESPN report does note:
"On our side of things, I think everyone would say we enjoyed Drake LaRoche in the clubhouse and everything he brought to the clubhouse," White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton said. "He helped out around and wasn't a burden by any stretch of the imagination. He wasn't a big problem last year, either.
"Adam and Drake are probably the most respected people in baseball I ever played with. Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, pick up baseballs when we needed. He didn't say boo to anybody and was never a trouble in the clubhouse."
Said Williams: "I want to be very clear on something. It's not because the young man was a distraction, not because he wasn't well-received or well-liked by players, management and everyone else.
So maybe there were legal issues? Did management fear that this might get out of control, if other players sought the same access for kids? Might there have been a liability question? Or is this a matter of special access for a male child, raising issues of gender discrimination?
Or, just saying, might there have been political and cultural issues involved?
Why raise that question: If one does a relevant online search involving LaRoche, the White Sox and the word "Christian" (quite a few #familyfirst type home-school parents are Christians) here is one of the first things that pops up from last year -- care of The Chicago Tribune -- as part of "Faith Day" coverage.
After the baseball game is completed Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field, White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche will stand up in front of a crowd and talk about one of his other passions.
LaRoche, reliever Zach Duke and infielder Gordon Beckham will take part in Faith Day, a new venture for the Sox, though certainly not new among major-league teams. LaRoche said he has participated in similar programs with the Braves, Pirates and Nationals.
The Christian group Vertical Church Band will play before the game and the players, along with "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson, LaRoche's friend, will share their stories of faith after the game.
"Hopefully people will stick around and want to hear it," LaRoche said. "As a believer, it is and should be the most important thing in our lives, so to be able to get up briefly and share that is an honor. And the fact that the White Sox allow it is great because some teams try to shy away from things like that and any type of (potential) controversy."
Potential controversy? You think? Holy culture wars! I mean, did they serve Chick-fil-A at this event, too? LaRoche is a friend of the the Duck Dynasty crew?
Now, there is a connection that might have infuriated some White Sox fans, perhaps even those in high places (think White House).
So, is "Faith Day" on the White Sox promotional schedule for 2016? Answer: Not yet. Some might consider "Grateful Dead" night a kind of faith event, I guess.
Of the features dealing with this #familyfirst stand by LaRoche, I thought that this Washington Post column by Adam Kilgore was the most graceful -- although it also managed to avoid using the word "Christian."
When LaRoche re-signed with the Washington Nationals in 2013, when he was 32 and still at the end of his prime, Drake and his daughter, Montana, asked him to stay home. “They’ve been wanting me to retire for two years,” LaRoche said before a game late in the 2014 season, sitting in the home dugout at Nationals Park.
Even then, LaRoche didn’t take it as an empty request. He loved the game but always had a different perspective on it than others in the big leagues. He played baseball but didn’t define himself year-round as a baseball player. He owns an enormous ranch and E3 Meat Co. with his brother in Fort Scott, Kan. He is a world-class hunter and produces shows with the guys in Duck Dynasty. He’s pals with country music stars and NASCAR drivers. He exists in a kind of Southern-fried fantasy life, and baseball was an important part. But it was always just a part.
Later on, another key word sneaks into the discussion. Hint: It starts with a large "B."
One reason teammates didn’t mind having Drake around is because it was Adam LaRoche’s kid. There is probably not a more admired, more well-liked man among ballplayers than LaRoche. He knew everybody -- there was hardly an acquisition who didn’t mention that he had called LaRoche upon learning he had joined the Nationals. He led Bible studies and took teammates on exquisite hunting trips. He could raise a little hell and give the best advice on how to blend family and baseball. Given the general demographic of ballplayers, LaRoche was viewed inside clubhouses as both the coolest and the sagest guy around. His kid helped out around the clubhouse and made them laugh. The other players loved Drake.
The bottom line: This is actually a religion-driven story, isn't it?
Yes, clearly there are relevant questions here linked to children and the workplace. However, the driving force in this conflict certainly appears to be LaRoche's conservative Christian faith and how -- in his heart and mind -- it affects his priorities as a father. Right? Is there some chance that his high-profile faith helped produce this conflict with White Sox management and, perhaps, some anonymous players in the clubhouse?
Just asking. Reporters might want to check on the 2016 status of "Faith Day" at U.S. Cellular Field.