On a quiet morning this spring, Salvador Perez and his young son, Salvador, moved through a back hallway that leads past the Royals manager’s office. As they slid past a doorway, Ned Yost saw a figure from the corner of his eye and called out toward the little Perez.
“Where are your glasses?” Yost asked.
Here at the Royals camp, amid the more lax and laid-back vibe of spring training, Perez’s young son is a consistent visitor. He spends mornings shadowing his dad. He offers hugs to teammates. He sits in a chair near his father’s locker.
He is young child in a major-league clubhouse, spending part of the work day with his father. Inside the Royals’ clubhouse, this is universally a good thing. Everybody in baseball recognizes the familial connection of the sport, and for the most part, everybody welcomes children into the clubhouse.
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Yet at no time in recent memory has the subject of children in the clubhouse been more controversial. Earlier this week White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche chose to retire from baseball after club officials attempted to limit his 14-year-old son’s time at the ballpark and in the clubhouse. The decision, which came just weeks before the regular season, lit a small powder keg in the Chicago organization and started a fascinating debate about a child’s place at the workplace, parenting styles and the culture of major-league clubhouses.
In most ways the LaRoches appear to be an extreme example. A native of Fort Scott, Kan., Adam LaRoche brought his son Drake to work every day. He had a personalized jersey. He had space in the clubhouse. He joined the team on the practice field during batting practice and other spring-training activities. During the baseball season, Drake LaRoche was home-schooled, essentially raised by his father’s teammates.
The setup had reportedly gone on for years, starting during LaRoche’s time as a member of the Washington Nationals. Drake’s behavior, according to reports, was exemplary. But as the elder LaRoche entered his second year with the White Sox, the club reportedly asked that he dial back his son’s presence at the park. LaRoche refused, instead choosing to walk away from $13 million in salary this season.
The situation raised a litany of questions about the White Sox and Adam LaRoche — including some that remain unanswered — but in a general sense there was this: How should major-league teams treat the presence of kids in the clubhouse?
“I just felt that it should not be every day, that’s all,” White Sox president Kenny Williams told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. “You tell me, where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?”
Inside the Royals’ clubhouse, Yost said the team has a policy in place for children, at least during the regular season. They are allowed to be around in the early afternoon, but once batting practice begins, the room is cleared, Yost said.
“We try to give them as much flexibility as we can, spending time with (their) kids,” Yost said. “Because it’s hard. As a baseball player, you miss a lot with your kids. So we want to try to give them as much opportunity as we can to spend time with their kids. But at the same time, we got business we got to tend to, too.”
For players, the major-league clubhouse can be a sacred space. There are rules to be followed. There is a general pecking order. There is a culture to understand. At times last summer, that space at Kauffman Stadium was teeming with young children. To most Royals, this is a positive thing.
“I’m all for having kids around,” catcher Drew Butera said. “I was one of those kids.”
Butera, 32, grew up while his father, Sal, was finishing a nine-year career as a backup catcher. Butera said he doesn’t remember much from those days. But some of his most cherished memories took place in a baseball clubhouse.
“Some of my best memories are having Carlos Delgado throw me in a trash can,” Butera said. “Or Shannon Stewart giving me some batting gloves or going to the bat rack with him.”
Butera said every club he has been with has had a specific policy on kids. Yost conceded that there have been times when the subject warranted a meeting or a conversation with players. For the most part, though, the subject has been a nonissue, Yost said.
“It’s kind of a fine line a little bit,” he said. “This is the most special time for our kids, and if you got kids, you want them to enjoy the experience with (you).”