“I wish I could play,” Eaton said. “My body’s just not what it needs to be. That knee injury I had in 2017 kind of derailed me a little bit. I just couldn’t stay healthy last year and the year before that. And COVID, right when it hit, didn’t help me either. I wasn’t able to get in the weight room. It was a few things here and there.”
Eaton had several offers to play in the offseason but was honest with the interested teams, telling them he didn’t think he could stay healthy. He didn’t think it would be fair to take their money and take up space on a big-league roster while he tried to piece his career back together.
“It’s very selfish,” Eaton said. “I didn’t believe in that.”
Eaton battled a hamstring injury during his stint with the White Sox last season.
“My brain and my heart want to do it, but my body is not going allow to stay healthy for a full year,” he said. “When you have the type of leg injury like I did, everything else starts to be affected. I had my hamstring drained multiple times last year on my right side because it was trying to compensate for my left. I’ve got back issues on my right side now. It’s a lot because of how I played. I played hard as all get out. It catches up to you. I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I worked my rear end off to get to where I was. I had a lot of really good coaches, a lot of luck. I played nine years more than I ever thought I would — even more than that, 12 years professionally. I’m pretty ecstatic with how it ended up. I couldn’t thank enough people from Springfield. I’d be here all day.”
Eaton, a 19th-round pick in the 2010 draft, made his big-league debut at the age of 23 on Sept. 12, 2012, with the Arizona Diamondbacks in San Francisco. His career also ended in California. He was 32 on Aug. 14, 2021, when he played his final game with the Los Angeles Angels against the Houston Astros.
The Angels designated Eaton for assignment after he hit .200 in 25 games. Eaton started the season with the White Sox and hit .200 in 58 games before being released July 13. The previous season, in the 60-game, pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he hit .226 in 41 games in his final season with the Nationals. Prior to that season, he had hit between .279 and .301 in six straight seasons.
Despite his final two seasons, Eaton hit .276 in his career. He twice hit .300 or better, hitting that number exactly in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, with the Chicago White Sox and hitting .301 in 2018 with the Washington Nationals.
All in all, Eaton can’t complain about a baseball journey that started when he and his brother Zack founded the Backyard Baseball League behind their home on the north side of Springfield and climaxed when he hit .320 with two home runs and six RBIs to help lead the Washington Nationals to the world championship in 2019. His two-run, bases-loaded single in the ninth inning helped clinch Washington’s Game 7 victory against the Astros. HIs parents, Glenn and Robin Eaton, of Springfield, were there for that game as they were for so many games throughout his career.
Along the way, Eaton overcame a torn ACL that cut short his 2017 season in Washington after 23 games.
“Having a couple of really good years in Chicago and then having that injury and coming back when a lot of doctors were surprised I even made it back is fulfilling,” Eaton said. “Then I won a World Series with an unbelievable group of guys. I have no regrets whatsoever. I enjoyed every second of it. I won’t miss the baseball much, I don’t think, but just the guys and hanging out and the stories that continue to kind of come in my mind. Daily, I’ll think of another great story. All my experiences, I can’t trade those for the world.”
Eaton may return to the game as a coach at some point. He has had a couple of offers from big-league teams. He wasn’t ready to make that time commitment. For now, he’s home in Brighton, Mich., with his wife Katie, a former Miami softball player who’s from Plymouth, Mich. They have two sons: Brayden, 6, and Maverick, 4.
“I’m busier now than ever,” Eaton said. “When you’re living at a home for seven years and you only spend about a month a year in that house, you can imagine what type of work I need to get done around the house. Weed-whacking and you name it, I’ve got to get it done. I haven’t had a summer off since I’ve been about 12 years old. I’m pretty excited to actually enjoy my house for a summer with my family. Maverick’s about to ride his bike for the first time. I missed Brayden with that. So a lot of firsts. Just being a dad. Enjoying it. That’s important to me. At the end of the day, you’re not a baseball player a lot longer than you are one. The people that matter most when you’re 60 years old are your family. I’m looking at it that way and trying to enjoy them as much as I can.”