Adam Eaton grew up 88 miles from Great American Ball Park. That’s the distance from Kenton Ridge High School in Springfield to Cincinnati.
Eaton had never been to Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day until Friday — and he had the honor of being the first batter of the season at the stadium. He hit leadoff for the Washington Nationals and played left field.
The moment meant more to him than it might have a year ago. This was Eaton’s first game with the Washington Nationals since April 28, 2017, when he tore his ACL running through first base.
» RELATED: Eaton speaks about his career in Springfield
The emotions of playing in his home state, of returning to the game he loves, of seeing his parents, Glenn and Robin, and wife Katie and young son, Brayden, in the stands — not to mention other family members and friends and fans from Springfield — made this Opening Day one to remember for Eaton.
“I just want people to realize when I’m out there today, it’s not just me,” Eaton said. “It’s a lot of people that were involved in getting me back and keeping me back and keeping me going all this year. It was such a team effort: from my mom and dad to my wife and little one, to my in-laws, to the family here and the guys and the training staff and the front office.
“It’s not just me working my rear end off to get back. It’s a lot of people’s help and support to be able to have this moment I’m really going to cherish. You think you can play this game as long as you want to, and when you have a traumatic injury like that, you really don’t know how it’s going to react and how you’re going to come back. To be able to step back on the field relatively healthy is huge for me and a real bright point in my life.”
Eaton made his Major League Baseball debut in 2012 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played his first full season in the big leagues in 2014, hitting .300 in his first season with the Chicago White Sox. He was traded to the Nationals after the 2016 season and hit .297 in 23 games before suffering the injury.
Eaton rehabbed throughout last season and this past offseason with the intention of starting Opening Day, and the spring went just as he planned. He didn’t appear in a Nationals game until March 17 but saw action in seven games and hit .250.
“I think everyone was in a bit of panic because it was coming down to the wire,” Eaton said, “but (the Nationals) know what they’re doing and I put my trust in them. I feel as good as I have leaving camp ever. I feel rejuvenated. My body feels in a good position. Both of my knees feel good. My shoulders feel good. It’s thanks to (the training staff).”
» LOOKING BACK: Eaton makes pro debut
Eaton has always put his body on the line with every play, and he won’t change his style even though he’s coming back from a major injury.
“Once I’m out there, I’m full go,” he said. “I’ve been running into walls and people and stools. I think we’re ready to do. I’m not holding anything back. When the lights are on, let’s do it.”
Eaton’s son Brayden, who will turn 2 in April, is old enough to better appreciate what his dad does for a living than he did a year ago. He’s talking a lot now but calls his dad’s sport football, something he’ll have to work on this spring.
“He doesn’t have the baseball thing down yet,” Eaton said. “He likes it. He likes to hit. He was there at spring training basically every day that I was thereat some point. He gets that dad hits things and throws things. He really enjoys. He likes home runs. He says ‘home run’ a lot for no reason at all.”