Adam Eaton’s journey to the big leagues began, as it does for so many players, in the backyard.
When Eaton was 7, he and his older brother Zack founded the Backyard Baseball League behind their house on the north side of Springfield. Their neighborhood friends played. Their mom Robin sang the National Anthem.
Their dad Glenn banned them for a couple of days after they dented his shed with a ball, but otherwise supported his sons’ dedication.
“I came home from work one day, and they had wagons hauling dirt from an empty lot,” Glenn said. “They actually built a pitcher’s mound in my backyard. Adam was the smallest and the youngest back then.”
If those backyard games didn’t flash through Adam’s mind Tuesday night when he hit leadoff for the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park in San Francisco against the Giants, it’s a testament to his focus. The 2007 Kenton Ridge graduate and former Miami University outfielder was promoted by the Diamondbacks on Monday night, becoming the 23rd Major League Baseball player in Clark County history.
Eaton’s promotion from Triple-A Reno wasn’t a surprise — he was named the Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year and MVP last week and hit .381 — but the timing was.
There was talk that Eaton wouldn’t get the call until after Reno’s playoff run. Also, he had just returned to the lineup after missing time with a concussion.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Eaton said Tuesday afternoon, before his first game. “I came home after a day game, and I was sitting on the couch watching the Diamondbacks game. Mike Bell, the head of player development, called and asked me how my head was. I said I felt great. He said, ‘You’re going up to the major leagues tomorrow. Get your stuff packed and get ready.’ I started running around the house.”
Eaton shared the moment with his fianceè, Katie Osburn, a former Miami University softball player, who was with him and flew Tuesday to San Francisco with him. Then he called his parents.
“It’s surreal,” Glenn said. “We keep pinching ourselves.”
Glenn and Robin caught a 5:50 a.m. flight out of Dayton on Tuesday to San Francisco. Zack Eaton was also flying in, as was Osburn’sparents and Miami University hitting coach Jeremy Ison.
Adam spent all day, when he wasn’t traveling, calling former coaches to thank them for their support. He said the moment was theirs as much as his.
Eaton is the first Clark County native to make his Major League debut since North graduate Jimmy Journell pitched for the Cardinals in 2003. Three Kenton Ridge grads preceded Eaton in the majors: Dave Burba, who debuted with the Mariners in 1990; Rick White (Pirates, 1994); and Dustin Hermanson (Padres, 1995).
All three of those former Cougars were pitchers, and Eaton is the first Major League position player from Clark County since Tecumseh grad Larry Owen debuted with the Braves in 1981. Mark Miller, of the Springfield/Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame, said Eaton is the fifth big league outfielder from Clark County and the first since 1940.
“Historically, Adam adds to what is a very rich history of success by local baseball players,” Miller said. “His promotion to the Diamondbacks speaks highly of local player development for a community our size.”
Eaton was drafted in the 19th round in 2010 after three seasons at Miami. None of the 18 players selected by the Diamondbacks ahead of him that season have made the majors. Only seven of the 50 players taken in the first round that year, including supplemental picks, have played in the big leagues.
Eaton has always bucked the odds, even at Kenton Ridge, where he played under longtime coach Tom Randall.
“We started him with the JV team,” Randall said. “We were playing at home, and the JVs were away. I asked (JV coach) Bob Hess, ‘How’s that Eaton kid doing?’ He said, ‘Well, just OK.’ After they had played four or five games, Aaron Shaffer, the present coach, who was helping coach the JV, said, ‘Coach, Hess is kind of hogging Eaton. I think he’s ready to come up and play for you. He’s 20-for-24.’ I said, ‘What?!’ ”
The next Saturday, Eaton made his varsity debut by going 5-for-9 with three doubles in a doubleheader. In his career, he helped lead the Cougars to regional championship games in 2004 and 2005 and a state runner-up finish in 2007.
But it all started in the backyard.
“Practice is what it comes down to,” Eaton said. “I remember putting a net out in my backyard to get ready for the season. You could never find me away from a bat and ball.”
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