LaRue has brought blue-collar attitude to Reds since 1999
They call him Dutch, for no apparent reason, and Adam Dunn calls him Captain KangLaRue. And because he is from Texas and sometimes wears rattlesnake boots, they call him Cowboy.
Jason LaRue has more nicknames than the alpha inmate on Cell Block 13.
It is difficult to avoid monikers and stereotypes when you drive a white Ford pick-up truck with monster tires and you wear a John Deere tractor cap to the park and you wear a camouflage T-shirt under your baseball uniform.
Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. love to ignore LaRue in the clubhouse when he says something to them while wearing his camouflage shirt. “We can hear you, but we can’t see you,” they say.
So far, the 32-year-old catcher has avoided being called Geezer or Pops or Old School, but that can’t be far behind. He is the answer to a good trivia question: Which member of the 2006 Cincinnati Reds has been with the team the longest?
Jason LaRue: 1999, six years, going on seven.
And he comes from the Tough Guy mold. He played last year with a hair-line fracture in his thumb and played every day manager Jerry Narron put him in the lineup.
As spring training began its last week, LaRue hit his first extra-base hit, a home run. And he felt something grab in his knee. He tore the medial meniscus in his right knee.
The next day, LaRue and team medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek were flown from Sarasota, Fla., to Cincinnati so Kremchek could perform a 30-minute arthroscopic operation on Kremchek’s home operating table. They immediately turned around and flew back to Sarasota the same day so LaRue could begin instant rehabilitation.
He walked into the clubhouse that day on crutches, but said, “If they let me, I could throw these things away and dance.” And if they let him, he probably would have squatted behind home plate for an exhibition game that night.
“It’s amazing what they can do these days, absolutely amazing,” said LaRue, counted out for 10 to 14 days, meaning he’ll miss only the first week of the season.
“Even more amazing is how I hurt it, feeling a pop in there when I hit the home run,” he said. “The next day I was catching Paul Wilson in a bullpen session and when I started to warm him up I felt discomfort. It didn’t go away and after a short while I told (trainer) Mark Mann, ‘I gotta go see Doc.’ ”
LaRue believes better things are ahead for the organization because of things such as owner Bob Castellini using his private jet to whisk LaRue to Cincinnati and back in one day.
“Oh, yeah. Don’t know what kind it was. If it was a truck, I could tell you. For Bob to do what he did says a ton about where this organization is headed. First class.”
With a new two-year $9.2 million contract signed over the winter, LaRue doesn’t need to be asked about being a team leader. He says he always has been, that the position demands it.
“People keep reminding me I’m the guy with the most service and I guess it means a lot,” he said. “My role hasn’t changed from years past. The position I play makes me a leader because I have a lot of priorities.”
The responsibilities are why LaRue chose catching as a profession. Sure, he’s a tough guy, too. Johnny Almaraz signed LaRue and said when he visited LaRue’s house there were a bunch of holes in the walls and his mother said, “That’s from Jason and his brother Joe wrestling and having it get out of hand.”
Said LaRue, “There are a lot of decisions to be made in the game and it all starts with the catcher. You are involved in almost every play of the game and nothing begins until the catcher flashes the sign.”
LaRue had his best season a year ago — .260, 14 homers, 60 RBIs over 110 games — while relinquishing some of his time to backup catcher Javier Valentin. The two combined to hit .268 with 28 homers and 110 RBIs, the best tandem catcher statistics in the majors.
If he could, LaRue would catch all 162, but he never said a word about Valentin cutting into his time.
“It worked, didn’t it?” he said.
Profile: Adam Dunn
Name: Adam Dunn
Height/weight: 6 feet 7/275
Born/reside: Houston/Montgomery, Texas
Acquired: Second-round pick in the 1998 draft.
On the field: He is the only player in Reds history to have two seasons with 100 walks, 100 RBI and 100 runs. He has the second-most home runs (158) after five years as a Red. Frank Robinson had the most (165).
Favorite meal: Mexican food. "I've become a burrito guy."
If you could go to dinner with one person, who would it be? "She'd have to be smart, so we could talk. Jennifer Aniston. I'd let her take me to dinner."
Favorite TV show: "Family Guy"
First car: Dodge Ram pickup
Fun fact: Dunn is a huge fan of Ultimate Fighting Championship. He attended two shows in the offseason and has become friends with middleweight champ Rich Franklin.