Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton’s speech Saturday night at the Springfield/Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony centered around failure.
That’s an odd subject if you consider what a success the 2007 Kenton Ridge graduate and former Miami University star has been in the big leagues — he’s a career .284 hitter entering his seventh season — but a fitting one if you consider his career path.
» PHOTOS: Hall of Fame induction ceremony
Eaton didn’t make the Kenton Ridge varsity team as a freshman. Many college coaches doubted whether Eaton could play Division I baseball. Few pro teams were interested in him after his junior season at Miami. The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 19th round when Eaton expected to go in the top 10 rounds, lighting a fire that still motivates him. That story has been told before.
One story from Eaton’s career that hasn’t been mentioned in almost 11 years, a story he brought up in his speech at the Hollenbeck Bayley Center, centered around his performance as a senior in the 2007 state championship game. It’s a lesson for any young player. On a mound at Cooper Stadium in Columbus, in longtime coach Tom Randall’s final game, Eaton learned how important failure can be.
In an 8-6 loss to Canfield, Eaton walked seven batters and allowed one hit and five earned runs in two innings. It was just his second start of the season. He battled an injury earlier in his senior season but had pitched well in the regional final at Carleton Davidson Stadium. That didn’t carry over to the final game.
“I lost the state championship,” Eaton said. “I couldn’t find the plate. My arm felt like rubber. We had a rain delay. No excuses. But that was failure to me. We didn’t win state. Coach Randall didn’t win state. The guys deserved to win state. It was on my arm, and we didn’t win.”
That bugs him to this day, Eaton said, and helped make him the player he is. He learned a similar lesson in his first big-league at-bat, striking out on four pitches. A 1-for-33 slump following a hot streak early in his career served the same purpose.
“You have failures throughout your life, some big and some small,” Eaton said, “but you have to fail to have progress.”
Based on the honors he has received from the Springfield/Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame alone, Eaton is far from a failure. That 2007 Kenton Ridge team joined the hall in 2012. Eaton was inducted in 2014.
» LOOKING BACK: Eaton makes pro debut
The 2008 team, which featured many of the same players from the 2007 team, was inducted on Saturday. The other inductees were: Derek Toadvine, a member of the 2008 Kenton Ridge team who played at Kent State and was drafted by the New York Yankees; Shawnee graduate Jason Leaver, who pitched at the University of Georgia; Northeastern coach Will Nichols, who guided Triad to two state runner-up finishes; and the 1994 Northridge 15-year-old Babe Ruth state champions.
Eaton was the guest speaker Saturday night and fielded questions from the biggest audience to attend the ceremony since the hall of fame was reborn in 2002. Of course, he got questions about the injury he suffered last April in his first season with the Nationals.
Eaton tore his ACL and meniscus and suffered a high ankle sprain lunging for first base to beat a throw. His first season in Washington ended after 23 games. He was hitting .297.
Nationals position players report to spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 19, and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 21. Eaton has been working out in Michigan, where his wife Katie is from, and plans to head to Florida on Jan. 20 to get ready.
“Everything’s going well,” Eaton said. “Probably the last two weeks I’ve been feeling extremely well — kind of scary well — and it’s been cold. We’ve had some crazy, frigid temperatures. I can only imagine what I’d feel in warmer weather. My knee’s been feeling good in the cold.”
The Nationals open the season in Cincinnati on March 29, making it easy for Eaton’s parents Glenn and Robin and his fans in Springfield and Oxford to see him play right away in 2018.
“We’re going to be ready on opening day,” Eaton said. “I think we’ll be definitely playing in spring training. I honestly have no worries I won’t be playing in spring training.”
» RELATED: Jablonski on chronicling Eaton’s career
The rehab process wasn’t easy. Eaton called it a “long, testing time,” but something he hopes makes him stronger. He hopes the year of rest adds longevity to his career.
Eaton has had help along the way. In December, his trainer urged him to talk to former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, now with the Los Angeles Angels, who suffered a similar injury in 2015, and rebounded to become an All-Star in 2017.
Cozart told Eaton he had the same feelings of doubt during his rehab process. It was exactly what Eaton needed to hear at that moment.
“I hadn’t been feeling all that well,” Eaton said, “and he made me feel so much better.”