Monday, September 24, 2018

Sports

Return to home state gets Express' LaRock back on track

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    The Eau Claire Express’s Adam LaRock runs to make a catch against the Waterloo Bucks on June 20 at Carson Park. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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Every year around the end of July, arguments are made about how a change of scenery can be a great thing for a baseball player.

That conversation is usually centered around the MLB as the trade deadline comes and goes, but the major leagues aren’t the only place where new surroundings can make a world of difference.

Just ask Adam LaRock, a 20-year-old who has already experienced what it’s like to get a fresh start on the diamond.

The Eau Claire Express utility player’s transfer from Iowa to Madison College breathed fresh life into his baseball career last year. After not seeing the field with the Hawkeyes during his freshman year in 2017, the Eau Claire North grad was part of a Wolfpack team that reached the NJCAA World Series this spring.

On Tuesday night, LaRock knocked in Spencer Myers with a walk-off single to give the Express a 6-5 victory over the Thunder Bay Border Cats.

In Iowa City, he was forced to do some growing up. Diving headfirst into college life and handling the schedule of a Division I athlete was difficult for the Eau Claire native.

“I had a really, really big learning experience at Iowa. I learned a lot about myself and baseball,” LaRock said. “I had to learn to deal with distractions. (I had) to become a man and be responsible, learn about respecting others, learn about relationships. It all led me to become stronger.

“Looking back now, it was tough. But I’m glad I went through it, because I came out a better person.”

The transfer to Madison College helped make the experience pay dividends on the field too.

LaRock started just over half of the Wolfpack’s games this season, and finished with a .284 batting average to go along with 25 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

“(Coming back to Wisconsin) was a really good comfort feeling. Being back home in Wisconsin for a few more years makes me not really worry about anything besides playing the game I love,” LaRock said. “It’s been really good for me, and I love the transition.”

Wisconsin has been a great place for LaRock to play in the past. He was a three-time All-Big Rivers Conference selection during his days at North, and helped the Huskies reach the state tournament in 2016 as the team’s No. 3 hitter.

With Madison College, he helped lift the Wolfpack to an 18-9 win over Kirkwood Community College at the NJCAA World Series in May with a 2-for-5 performance with a double in the team’s only win of the Series.

He’s still in Wisconsin these days, playing with the Express this summer. This is his first full season with the Northwoods League team, although he played a handful of games for Eau Claire last summer.

Entering Tuesday, he was hitting to the tune of a .229 average with the Express, and had driven in 12 runs. He has played all over the infield and outfield, and even pitched an inning.

To LaRock, the community aspect of playing with the Express is just as important as anything that happens on the field. Growing up in Eau Claire, he’s been around plenty of Express games even before his playing days, which has made it even more special to don the orange and black jersey.

“It’s a dream come true to be playing here,” he said. “As a kid I grew up coming to these games. ... If a player took just a little time to talk to me, it was just the biggest deal to me. I’ve remembered that my whole life, so to be able to do that and give back to them, that’s why I love playing in Eau Claire the most.”

LaRock will get another change of scenery after next year, barring any injury that would cause him to miss significant time in the spring. Next season is slated to be his final at the junior college level, and he’s keeping his options open for life post-Madison.

He said Madison coach Mike Davenport is helping him through that process.

“I have ideas for places that would be fun to play at, but I’m leaving it up to (Davenport). I have the utmost respect for that man, he’s a great person to trust and if he can trust you, that’s big,” LaRock said. “He’s letting me play my game while he focuses on the college part of it. He knows what’s best for me, so when the time comes to pick a college, I trust he’ll have a great couple of choices for me.”

Wherever his next destination is, he’ll get the chance to put into action everything he’s learned from the ride he’s been on over the last two years.


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