The Nationals’ Adam Eaton celebrates after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning of Game Four of the National League Championship Series at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Photo: Will Newton
Photo: Will Newton

Adam Eaton ‘scraping and clawing’ to baseball’s biggest stage

Nationals right fielder plays big role in team reaching World Series

The Washington Nationals right fielder exchanged text messages with former Kenton Ridge High School coach Tom Randall after the biggest moment (so far) of his baseball career, a 7-4 series-clinching victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Nationals Park.

» PHOTOS: Eaton through the years

Randall said Eaton was jubilant about the four-game sweep and the World Series to come next week. The Nationals will play the New York Yankees or Houston Astros on the road in Game 1 on Tuesday.

“He just said he still can’t believe it,” Randall said, “and he said, ‘I want to thank you for letting me have my start at Kenton Ridge.’”

Eaton’s whole baseball life led to that moment, he said Wednesday afternoon on the phone from Washington, D.C. He ran down a long list of friends and coaches who helped him reach this point.

“When Victor Robles caught that ball (for the final out),” Eaton said, “I saw myself as an 8-year old kid getting the big hit in the backyard with my childhood friends.”

» BACK FROM INJURY: Eaton on returning to action in 2018

Eaton shared the excitement of the two games in Washington with his parents, Glenn and Robin Eaton, his wife Katie and two cousins, Jacob Eaton and Sutton Wilcoxon. His oldest son Bradyen, 3, was awake when Katie got home.

“He said, ‘You’re going to the World Serious?’” Adam said. “He’s kind of been confused through this whole process. We split in L.A, and Katie’s like, ‘Three more games, and we’ll see what happens with Daddy,’ and he’s like, ‘What do you mean? Is he going to come home, or is he going?’ We keep saying, ‘One more game. Two more games.’ He’s trying to keep up with everything.”

Eaton’s former coaches also are staying up late to watch him. Eaton and Randall have kept in touch over the years, and he also has remained close to Dan Simonds, who coached him at Miami University and is now the director of baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Simonds was touched on Opening Day this year when Eaton called him on the way to Nationals Park. Now Simonds has seen his former player reach the biggest stage in baseball.

“I’m just thrilled for him as a player but thrilled for him and his family and him as a person,” Simonds said. “It’s just great to see. I know he’s suffered through some injuries over the last couple years, and to see the way he’s bounced back and the contributions he’s made to this team, it’s very, very exciting. As good as a player he is, he’s an even better person. He’s an easy guy to root for.”

» EARLIER COVERAGE: Eaton excited to make postseason debut

Eaton has started each of the 10 postseason games for the Nationals, hitting second in every game. He’s hitting .194 with a .310 on-base percentage in the playoffs. In the last five games, he has played a key role in big moments.

“One thing I never realized watching the playoffs if you just face absolute aces all the way through,” Eaton said. “There’s no guy coming out of the pen throwing 92 with a curveball or slider. For me, that’s been the most difficult thing. Everybody is throwing their guy every single inning. They’re making their pitches. They don’t make mistakes. Everybody who threw 96 now throws 98 because of adrenaline. I don’t think I really set the world on fire from an average standpoint, but my job is to get on base and try to get the big hit or have a timely hit. I just have been blessed to be put in a position in certain situations to drive in some runs in the playoffs. Just scraping and clawing, the story of my career.”

» HAL McCOY: Nationals sweep Cardinals

In Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Eaton started the winning rally with a walk in the 10th inning, scoring on a grand slam by Howie Kendrick.

In the NLCS, he tripled and scored in the seventh inning in Game 1, giving the Nationals a 2-0 lead. A day later in Game 2, his two-run double in the eighth gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead.

In Game 3, he drove in the first run in a four-run third inning with a two-out single. In Game 4, Eaton doubled and scored in a seven-run first inning.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Simonds said. “He’s a guy that could be 0-for-3 or 0-for-4 and that fourth or fifth at-bat is what’s going to matter. I still want Adam up there. He’s always a guy that’s going to rise to the occasion, and he’s showing it right now.”

» EATON IN 2018: A successful series in Cincinnati

The sweep gives the Nationals a week to get ready for the World Series. The whole team got the day off Wednesday and will have a workout Thursday.

“I think we’re all excited to take a little time off,” Eaton said. “This run has been stressful on our starting pitching. Our guys have been our horses all year even when we weren’t playing well in April and May. To be able to give those guys some rest is very beneficial, and we’re an older team. I think guys are in tune with their bodies. They understand what it takes to get ready. Time off is going to be needed, and I think guys will use it to the best of their ability.”

According to the Springfield/Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame, Eaton will be the seventh player from Clark County to play for a team that made the World Series. Here’s the Hall of Fame’s list: Jiggs Donahue (1906 Chicago White Sox); Pat Donahue (1910 Philadelphia A’s); Harvey Haddix (1960 Pittsburgh Pirates); Will McEnaney (1975 and 1976 Cincinnati Reds); Rick White (2000 New York Mets); and Dustin Hermanson (2005 White Sox).

Pat Donahue is the only player on that list who did not play in the World Series. Jiggs Donahue is the only position player on that list to bat in the World Series. He went 5-for-18 with four RBIs. Haddix was the last player from Clark County to get a hit in the World Series. He went 1-for-3 and was the winning pitcher in Game 5 of the 1960 World Series.

Eaton is the fourth Kenton Ridge graduate to play in the big leagues, and he’ll be the third to play in the World Series, following White and Hermanson.

» EATON IN 2018: Speaking at Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame banquet

Scott Zerkle knows all those names well. He’s a 1984 Kenton Ridge graduate who was a longtime assistant coach on Randall’s staff. He also has kept in touch with Eaton over the years.

“It’s amazing,” Zerkle said. “I’m living and dying with every at-bat and every foul ball. Just so proud of him and how he keeps battling. He has battled every day for years to prove he belongs, and there he is. It’s pretty cool.”

Zerkle and Randall saw Eaton play in Pittsburgh last season but both missed him Cincinnati this year and weren’t able to travel to see him play. Zerkle plans to make up for it finding World Series tickets. He apologized to Eaton two weeks before the ending of the season for not seeing him play in person this year.

“Don’t worry about it,” Eaton told him. “We’ve got plenty of more season left.”

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