Posts

Adam Eaton // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

Rev Up the Park: Nationals’ Adam Eaton on Leading the Drive

The Washington Nationals have come a long way since the first two months of 2019’s baseball season. They’re now much closer to where fans and foes never thought they’d be: a team close to having the best record in the MLB’s National League East.

But in the midst of a ride as wild as a 162-game season, there are things to focus on bigger than baseball – and Nationals’ right fielder Adam Eaton knows it. The 30-year-old lefthander from Springfield, Ohio is in his third year with DC’s baseball team, and with that came his third annual Rev Up The Park charity event.

Rev Up The Park combines Eaton’s love for cars with his passion for making a difference. With the help of the Nationals Dream Foundation and his connection to the Dragonfly Foundation, his third year has been the biggest one yet with over 200 registered cars and over $22,000 raised. Eaton has been able to see the benefits of his support, keeping in touch with Dragonfly Foundation Cofounder Christine Neitzke and her son Matt, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 but is now cancer-free thanks to the foundation’s efforts.

“To actually see families that have benefited from [the Dragonfly Foundation’s] programs is huge for me,” Eaton says. “To continue to see them giving back continues to fuel me to donate my time, money and efforts to hopefully help those families to survive and have a brighter side to what they’re going through.”

The event, held on July 27, raised funds for the Dragonfly Foundation in support of pediatric cancer patients and their families. Eaton says he’s not alone in pursuing his passion, as a good portion of Major League Baseball players try to stay in touch with their hobbies.

“Baseball is such a mental and physical grind,” he says. “Having a distraction, life perspective and being in touch with life outside of baseball is huge for us as baseball players.”

Whether it’s hunting, fishing or cars – his Dodge Viper ACR in particular – “everything outside of our professional lifestyle is always important for us to do [so we can] continue to be human beings and do things outside of baseball.”
Since childhood, owning American muscle cars has motivated Eaton, and remained a focal point of his personal life as he worked his way through the Minor Leagues and became a 19th-round draft pick in 2010.

“I love baseball and wanted to be able to afford vehicles,” he says. “That was it. That was my only thought. This is very much a ‘pinch me’ moment. I never thought in a million years that I’d ever own my dream car, and I’m very excited about it. I’m an American muscle car guy through and through. That’s all I own and will ever own. I’m patriotic and love my country and try to give back the best I can. It’s a very surreal moment.”

Another car fanatic on the Nationals is ultimate utility player Howie Kendrick, who also looks forward to this event every year and is happy to be able to support Eaton and the cause.

“It’s really cool to see the following he’s gotten now with this event,” Kendrick says. “Every year it grows. It’s a blast to talk to the fans and car people in general. Adam takes a lot of pride in this event and it shows with the way it’s run and the people who donate their time to come help out. It [means a lot] to come out and be able to support Adam.”

Kendrick mentions that teammates Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are also big car guys themselves – but not as big as himself and Eaton, who find themselves bonding over it often.

“Athletes and cars go hand in hand. Me and Adam are the two biggest car guys. We’re constantly talking cars, and you couldn’t think of a better event for his charity. I’m happy to be here and happy to support it.”

The Nationals Dream Foundation has been a major source of positive influence in the District, supporting local youth baseball teams and keeping the baseball influence high in the community, as well as its military initiatives.

“Our guys are so willing,” Eaton says. “We’ve got a really good group of guys. We have a platform to influence the community in a positive manner. [The foundation] is the number one priority outside of baseball.”

He doesn’t think about legacy – just the opportunities he’s given and how he can use his platform to help others. Nothing is set in stone, and Eaton remains humbled and happy to be where he is.

“They’ve given me the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “I’m blessed that the Nationals gave me the opportunity to play and help the community. I just want to be as positive as I can, play as hard as I can and let the chips fall.”

Eaton has always taken pride in setting a good example on and off the field, even when he was battling major injuries as a newer member of the team in previous seasons.

“Even being a new guy and being hurt, I wanted to try and [be a good] influence and work as hard as I could to get healthy. It’s about knowing that you can make an impact, [and] not just through playing baseball. It’s all about just playing to the fullest every day – hustling and playing the right way.”

Eaton works with the team’s younger outfielders, 22-year-old Victor Robles and 20-year-old Juan Soto, noting how he just wants to be a leader with his never-give-up mentality of “just trying to let them see the right way to play the game.”

“I try to influence them in a positive manner. That’s the cool thing about baseball. You play every single day and you constantly have chances to be positive or negative – and it’s your choice. The older I get, hopefully the better I get to approaching it and trying to learn through failures and successes.”

For the Nationals’ starting right fielder, there’s just something special about rocking the curly “W” on his chest in the nation’s capital.

“[It’s] really cool to be able to wear the curly ‘W’ and be in front of people that represent this country: politicians and government officials, [and] just people that live in this area. It’s really unique for me and something I take great pride in, and I know that the Nationals do as well.”

Eaton has evolved in his all-around leadership role from his first year as a National in 2016 to the present, as the team keeps driving to nab the top spot of the NL East Division.

“Come support us in the next few months,” Eaton says. “It’s going to be a heck of a ride.”

With eight homestands remaining, catch the Nationals’ regular season games at Nationals Park through Sunday, September 29. At time of publishing, the Nats are 57-51. Learn more at www.nationals.com

Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-640-7368; www.nationals.com

Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Nationals

Pitching Expected to Take Nats Far in 2019

You can’t talk about the 2019 outlook for the Washington Nationals without first addressing the elephant on the field – mainly that franchise icon Bryce Harper has departed to Philadelphia thanks to a record-setting, 13-year, $330 million contract. But even without the former MVP at Nats Park, the team is still flush with outstanding talent and has made some of the savviest moves of the offseason.

The team signed Patrick Corbin, the top pitcher on the free agent market, to a six-year, $140 million contract in early December. Coming off a season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 246 batters in 200 innings pitched, the former Arizona Diamondback immediately made the already formidable rotation arguably the best in baseball.

“I think [the Nationals] have won the most games in regular season baseball in the last five [or] six years,” Corbin says. “And knowing how deep of a team they are, I saw this as a place that I could live for a long time and be part of this rotation. Honestly, I feel like I just stepped right in, and I can’t think of one thing that hasn’t been great. Between all the players, all the things that we’re doing on and off the field together, the coaching staff [and] the training staff, everyone has been awesome. Being a new guy here, it seems like it’s been easy to join and be part of it.”

Staff ace Max Scherzer struck out 300 batters in 220 innings on his way to a league-leading 18 wins and 2.53 ERA. While Stephen Strasburg had some injury concerns last year, he still managed 10 wins and 156 Ks in just 130 innings; he’s looked healthy all spring and should be poised for a top season. The rest of the rotation includes veterans Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson – both recent free agent signees – and 25-year-old Joe Ross, who has been a dependable arm for the Nats since 2015 as insurance against injury.

Sean Doolittle established himself nicely at the closer in 2018, as the lefty recorded 25 saves and an anemic 1.60 ERA. This year, he’s joined in a revamped pen by veteran Trevor Rosenthal, who will serve as his primary setup man, as well as young fireballers Kyle Barraclough, Koda Glover and Justin Miller. The new additions reinforce a bullpen that should improve on its overall 4.05 ERA.

Even without Harper, the Nats shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. A breakout season by rookie Juan Soto last year is just the tip of the iceberg of what MLB experts expect from the left fielder. Expect plenty of tape measure home runs to go along with an impressive eye at the plate.

Soto’s joined in the outfield this year by Adam Eaton in right and top prospect Victor Robles, whose speed rivals anyone in the game, manning center. Michael A. Taylor injured himself near the end of spring and until he’s fully recovered, power hitter Matt Adams will see some time in the outfield as will veteran Howie Kendrick.

“It’s exciting to know that you’re on a team that wants to win and tries to put the best team on the field,” Corbin says.

Anthony Rendon is the true star of this team to many, and even though he’s entering the final year of his contract, it’s a good bet that he’ll be reupping on a long-term deal sometime soon. The third baseman hit .308 last year, with 24 homers and 92 knocks, and was exceptional as always at manning his position. Longtime Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will try to rebound from another injury-plagued season, and hopefully provide more than the 85 games he played last year. He’s only a year removed from a 36-homer season, though three of the past five seasons, he’s seen action in less than 95 games.

Adams will most likely find some ample time as his backup. Veteran Brian Dozier was signed to play the keystone and forms a new double-play combo with speedster Trea Turner, who led the league with 43 steals in 2018. In fact, speed is going to be a major weapon for the Nats this season.

Between Turner, Robles, Dozier and Eaton, this team can run, and manager Dave Martinez is not afraid to send his guys or call on the hit-and-run. The team brought in two longtime backstops this off-season to handle catching duties, with Yan Gomes coming over in a trade with Cleveland and Kurt Suzuki signing a two-year deal to return to the club after seven years. Both offer solid framing skills and are above average with the bat for the catcher position.

The NL East is expected to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball this year, with the Phillies adding Harper plus four other former all-stars in shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, catcher J.T. Realmuto and closer David Robertson. The Mets are making a splash adding Edwin Diaz, last year’s AL saves leader, in a deal that also netted them offensive-minded second baseman Robinson Canó, not to mention signing catcher Wilson Ramos and infielder Jed Lowrie. And the Braves brought in former MVP Josh Donaldson to man third for the team that won the division in 2018.

The Nationals seem to have put together a team that is a perfect balance of pitching, offense and defense, and should be able to ride the strength of their arms all the way to the postseason.   

“I think we’re as good as any team in baseball from top to bottom,” Corbin says. “Everyone’s goal is to win a World Series. That’s going to be ours. Our job now is to get better each and every day.”

For more information on Corbin and the Nats’ 2019 season, visit www.mlb.com/nationals.

Nationals Park: 1500 South Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-675-6287; www.mlb.com/nationals