Springfield’s Eaton excited about beginning of second stint with White Sox

Former Miami University outfielder entering his 10th season in big leagues

Nine years ago, Reno Aces manager Brett Butler was prophetic when he talked about an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect named Adam Eaton, who was drafted in the 19th round two years earlier and made a quick climb through the system.

“He’s a unique animal,” Butler said then “He’s got this drive and determination that the little guys have. He’s going to start the engine on the club. He’s going to be in the big leagues in a short period of time, and when he gets up there and you give him a chance to play every day, he will never come back. He’ll be up there, in my opinion, for 10 or 15 years.”

Eaton made his Major League Baseball debut later in that 2012 season, and on Thursday in Los Angeles, he will start his 10th season in the big leagues and his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. With every new chapter in his career, he adds to a resume that makes him one of the most successful professional athletes to come out of Springfield, Kenton Ridge High School and Miami University.

“My goal was always to make it to the big leagues,” Eaton said Sunday, “but now it’s kind of to play long enough where my kids can hopefully remember being around the clubhouse and seeing the big leaguers and seeing them work and seeing them play and just have that memory. I hope to be able to give that to them. This year, fans are back. The family is looking forward to being back in the stadium. I think we’re all looking forward to families being around and fans being back. We’ve had many discussions about how we’re nothing without fans. I think we knew it. I think it was more of fact and realization last year.”

Now 32, Eaton is entering a new phase of his career. He signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the White Sox in December after four seasons with the Washington Nationals. The contract came with an $8.5 million club option and a $1 million buyout for 2022, according to reports.

After starting his big-league career with two seasons in Arizona, Eaton played three seasons with the White Sox (2014-16) and now returns to a franchise that ended a streak of seven straight losing seasons by finishing 35-25 last season. It’s expected to be one of the top teams in the American League this season.

“It’s definitely new but old,” Eaton said Sunday. “It’s exciting for the family and I to get back to the Midwest, where we love to be, and be in a city that has always been near and dear to our hearts. Going to Miami, there was that Chicago connection to Miami. A lot of guys I played with were from Chicago. And to be able to go back to the familiar faces is exciting for us. From an organizational standpoint, there’s a lot of new faces but a lot of the same. It’s a good mixture. We’re excited to get back and get settled in, and this team’s really talented, so we’re excited to see how it goes.”

Eaton’s parents, Glenn and Robin Eaton, of Springfield, will be able to see him play easier in Chicago. Adam and his wife Katie and their sons Brayden, who will turn 5 in April, and Maverick, who turns 3 in May, are based in Michigan, where Katie’s family lives.

The White Sox’s schedule includes games in Cincinnati on May 4-5 and a number of games in Detroit and Cleveland. Those are all easy drives for Eaton’s family and friends.

“I’m a very family-oriented guy,” Eaton said. “It’s just nice to be able to involve everybody with that decision and be close to home and be able to see friends and family quite a bit. People can come up and see me play in Chicago or Cincinnati. Pops, he was excited because he has season tickets again. He knows this doesn’t last forever. I think we all realize that.”

No one in Eaton’s family got to see play last season in his final season in Washington because of Major League Baseball attendance restrictions during the pandemic. One season after winning the World Series, the Nationals finished 26-34.

Eaton hit .226 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 2020. The Nationals declined to pick up his option after the 2020 season.

“It was a very, very weird year,” Eaton said. “The family wasn’t there. We had such a good relationship with the Nationals and to end on that was not ideal.”

Eaton is projected to start in right field for the White Sox this season. His influence will extend beyond the field, though.

“Our guys really want to learn,” manager Tony La Russa told reporters earlier this month. “Adam’s influence on the offensive side, the defensive side, the team thing, especially now with the recent World Series championship, dealing with the expectations and pressures of having to win. He’s a very intelligent and articulate guy. He’s been a great student of the game. I’ve had several conversations with him and have been very impressed with how he breaks things down. The ideal mentor.”

Eaton is a career .282 hitter. In baseball’s last full season, in 2019, he hit .279 with 15 home runs and then he hit .320 with two home runs and six RBIs in the World Series. This spring, he hit .318 (14 for 44) in 17 games.

Eaton worked out in the offseason at the Legacy Center Sports Complex in Brighton, Mich.

“Being a year older, there’s adjustments that have to be made with your swing, your body and your preparation,” Eaton said. “Last year, we were a little ambushed. We were all guessing on whether we were going to play or not. To have a full offseason has been really really nice.”

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