You start reading the story in the Washington Post about Adam LaRoche of the Washington Nationals bringing his 11-year-old son to spring training, and you smile a bit because it's a nice human-interest story about a kid, his dad and his dad's extraordinary job.
Drake LaRoche is the "the luckiest 11-year-old in America" the story asserts from the start, and it's hard to argue that point. He knows all the players, calls them by their nicknames, shags fly balls, gets called "the 26th man" by a coach and gets to hang around a Major League Baseball team all spring and into regular season.
It reminds you of when you were a kid and would hang out with your dad's softball team and they'd call you the manager. It was just a once-a-week city league, but it was the highlight of your week. Now imagine being Drake LaRoche. How great must that be? Hanging out with one of the best teams in baseball?
You keep reading the story and Adam LaRoche — himself a second-generation baseball player who grew up tailing his dad in pro locker rooms — delivers the aw-shucks quote:
“It’s like having your son and your best friend alongside you all day long, at work, which never gets to happen. I don’t know many jobs where you can bring your kid and not have to put him in day care somewhere. It’s been awesome.”
And then, toward the end of the story, you watch LaRoche step in it, telling Post reporter Adam Kilgore:
“We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.' "
You cringe at that "We're not big on school" line and immediately scroll down to the comments. They're what you expect. Judgement, name-calling, second-guessing.
You're a parent now yourself, so you learned this lesson long ago: Parents love to tell other parents how to be good parents. Couple that with anonymous online commenting and you get armchair parents abound.
There's no way to be sure, but something tells you most of these commenters aren't parents and professional athletes, so they can't speak from direct experience about LaRoche's situation.
What came before that eye-popping quote was an explanation of how the LaRoches handle educating their child given their unusual lifestyle. They've been doing this, mind you, for three years now.
Long ago, LaRoche prioritized bringing Drake with him over traditional schooling. He goes to class in winter. In Viera, he brings schoolwork with him and sees a private tutor at a Sylvan Learning Center. They live in a small Kansas town, and LaRoche arranged Drake’s education with the public school. LaRoche said Drake’s school is fine so long as Drake passes standardized tests.
Is that how you'd educate your child? Not sure. Maybe not. But is that how you think you LaRoche should educate his? Does that matter? Should it even be your concern?
Kids hanging around major league clubhouses with their fathers is nothing even close to new. Future stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Prince Fielder all spent portions of their childhoods soaking up the big leagues with their famous dads. For each one of those guys, though, there are hundreds of kids who never became baseball players.
Drake LaRoche says he'd like to be a ball player ... or a fur trapper. And many other 11-year-olds will tell you they want to be astronauts or pop singers or movie stars. Kids are supposed to dream big — even unrealistically big.
You know the truth: Odds are Drake LaRoche won't be a professional baseball player. Nothing against him, his dad and their choices. Those are just the odds.
You won't pretend to be an expert on today's evolving education spectrum. There are public schools, private schools, year-round schools, trade schools, charter schools, online schools and so on. Different folks, different strokes, right?
Adam LaRoche's school of choice is something else: baseball school. And, in a world full of deadbeat parents, at least he's a guy who wants his kid around. Applaud him for that.
Maybe shagging fly balls at 11 will lead to a career in baseball one day for Drake — as a player, announcer, scout, groundskeeper or something else entirely. Maybe it won't, and he'll have to lean on a traditional education one day. Maybe, you figure, it doesn't matter because his dad is a multi-millionaire.
As a parent, though, you're sure about one thing: All of this is Adam LaRoche's decision. He gets to raise his child as he sees fit.