White Sox

White Sox' Adam LaRoche: 'Last year sucked ... but I'm over it'

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White Sox' Adam LaRoche: 'Last year sucked ... but I'm over it'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As much as he may have desired to, Adam LaRoche couldn’t totally ignore the worst season of his career once he reached the offseason.

The veteran designated hitter/first baseman needed to review what took occurred last season to determine if he could discover why he struggled mightily before he moved on. But as soon as he assessed it properly, LaRoche removed himself as far as he possibly could from his first season with the White Sox.

Shortly after he arrived at Camelback Ranch on Sunday, LaRoche said he’s refreshed and fully removed from a campaign in which he hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in 484 plate appearances.

“You can’t help but look at some of it,” LaRoche said. “You kind of look back at what you could have done different, as a team, individually, kind of where things went south and then put it behind you as fast as you can. I felt like I let go of that early on, enjoyed the winter and (am) excited to do it again.

“Last year sucked. It was tough. But I’m over it now.”

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Doesn’t matter if a player has two years in the league or 10, hitting the reset button after a poor season is critical. Not once in 2015 could LaRoche maintain a hot streak. He didn’t identify why he struggled on Sunday other than to say he began to press and everything began to snowball — “in the middle of it you try a little too hard and you just don’t recover,” LaRoche said.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura believes LaRoche’s struggles were a combination of everything, from mental and mechanical issues, to adjusting to the life of a DH and a new league.

But what Ventura — who said at SoxFest that LaRoche must earn playing time this season — likes is how he found the veteran in a good place after he reported to camp on Sunday morning.

“He looks great, he feels good and he's going to be ready to go,” Ventura said. “It's always good to get a reset.

“The biggest thing right now is he comes in in a great frame of mind to help us win games.”

LaRoche spent the offseason relaxing with his family. He also fished and hunted as he always does.

LaRoche is optimistic about his second attempt at being a designated hitter. He thinks he has a better plan on how to fill the time in between plate appearances and is eager to prove he’s up to the challenge. The knee issues that dogged him for the final two months of the season have gone away with rest.

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While most of his offseason routine remained the same, LaRoche did make one change. He began to do CrossFit for the first time and said he feels good as he’s about to begin the 13th season of his career.

In an attempt to bounce back, LaRoche wanted to put himself in the best place possible. He wants to be the guy the White Sox signed for two years and $25 million in November 2014.

He has already experienced hell on the diamond, and he isn’t interest in another visit.

“It was tough, it was a grind,” LaRoche said. “It’s just a different feeling coming to the field when you’re feeling good and playing good and winning games. As a team there is just a different atmosphere in there. Unfortunately, the only way you can get it is winning ballgames. So yeah, it was draining. I really don’t want to go through that again.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.