Adam Eaton patrolled the area near the stands along left-field foul line at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday as well as he roamed center field on Monday. Only this time, instead of chasing down fly balls, he connected with his fans, paying them back one by one for coming to see him play his first professional games in his home state.
Eaton spotted Kenton Ridge girls basketball coach Ed Foulk in the stands and shouted a greeting. He chatted for a bit with Travis Blankenship, a teammate on the 2007 Kenton Ridge state runner-up team who was showing his new colors by wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks T-shirt with Eaton’s name and number on the back.
Eaton posed for a photo with Andy DeWitt, another former Cougar and now the head baseball coach at Shawnee. He signed a baseball for 5-year-old Hunter Tuttle, of Springfield.
Not far away Adam’s parents, Glenn and Robin Eaton, watched it all while visiting with friends and family themselves. While they are proud of their son’s baseball accomplishments — Adam is the fourth Kenton Ridge player and the 23rd in Clark County history to make the big leagues — they are just as excited by all he does off the field.
“We’re so proud of the man he’s become with the work he’s done with the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Glenn said. “There’s a special on ESPN right now he’s a part of. He’s also very active in the Wounded Warrior project. We’re just proud of the way he’s handled everything and the man he is today.”
Eaton hasn’t traveled an easy path to the top of his profession.
As a senior at Kenton Ridge in 2007, he battled a back injury for a large chunk of the season. Miami University always had plans to use him as a pitcher, but a sore elbow plagued him and he remained an outfielder. Eaton expected to be drafted in the first 10 rounds in 2010. He fell to the 19th.
This season, Eaton was playing well in spring training and appeared poised to earn the starting center fielder’s job with the Diamondbacks. Again, his elbow started bothering him.
Eaton talked to his parents on Skype the night he told them about his elbow.
“As parents, you wonder how they are going to handle those bumps in the road, sometimes larger than others,” Robin said. “He actually took it better than we did. I was absolutely speechless. I couldn’t say anything. I knew if I did, I’d break down. He was positive and said he’d get through it OK. We just have a lot of faith knowing the Lord’s brought him this far and was not going to let him down now.
Eaton returned to action in May in the minors, took more time off after the elbow started hurting again and finally worked his way back to the Diamondbacks in July.
There’s little doubt the delayed season has hurt Eaton. He was hitting .240 through Tuesday. He went 1-for-4 Monday in the first game of the series against the Reds and lined out in his only at-bat Tuesday as a pinch hitter. He returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, batting leadoff and playing left field.
While Eaton has struggled at the plate at times, he also has two of the biggest hits of the season for Arizona. His two-run double to beat the Pirates in the 16th inning on Sunday came six days after a walk-off home run into the pool at Chase Field in Phoenix to beat the Orioles.
“The consistency has been a little bit of an issue,” Eaton said. “With the three months off, then the setback, to be able to get up here and help these guys win a couple games has been very good mentally.
“Being a rookie on the DL the whole first half, not helping the team win, is not fun. I just want to help this team win and put this team in the best position to win. To come through like that and have that opportunity was great.”
When he was struggling early in his return to the Diamondbacks, Eaton worked to make his own luck. On July 23, during a game against the Cubs in Phoenix, he asked three kids near the on-deck circle to touch his bat for luck. He went 3-for-4 that night.
“They were a very nice family,” Eaton said. “I talked to them after the game and gave them some stuff. It’s nice to be a kid out there. Sometimes you forget that and take it too seriously.”
Eaton generated luck in another way around the same time by shaving his beard but keeping a long, bushy mustache. It generated quite the buzz on Twitter, and Eaton even invited fans to vote on whether he should keep it or shave it.
The mustache is gone now, and Glenn Eaton misses it. He had his own mustache for 33 years when he was a firefighter.
“When he had the mustache, there was a fan base out there at Chase Field that was getting into it,” Glenn said. “They were calling him Super Mario. Kids were showing up with fake staches on. We enjoyed that. It was fun.”
Playing in Cincinnati has been a treat for Eaton because GAPB is the stadium he visited most often when he was growing up in Springfield. He and his dad were Indians fans, so anytime they were in town, they would come down to Cincinnati to see them play.
Adam’s parents didn’t get to see him play live this season until last weekend in Pittsburgh. Glenn had some health issues earlier in the season. He and Robin were forced to watch all the games on TV, staying up well past midnight most nights to see Adam play.
“He hates watching it on TV,” Adam said. “He’d much rather be here.”