On Friday, April 8, 2016, it was 39 degrees; the sky was spitting snow. It wasn’t exactly baseball weather, but the Chicago White Sox took the field for their home opener game against the Cleveland Indians nonetheless. It was a big day for the whole team, but it was an even bigger day for Adam Eaton. Little did the outfielder know, he was just hours away from becoming a father.
“He came almost two weeks early,” Eaton says of baby Brayden, now nine weeks old, who was born early Saturday, April 9. “We actually had a plan for if he came early enough [while we were in spring training in] Arizona, and we had a plan of course to be in Michigan [where we live]. We did not have a plan in Chicago because we thought for one day, for [my wife] to be in Chicago opening day, she wouldn’t have the baby. So we had nothing ready, no diaper bag, no overnight clothes. It was spur of the moment, for sure.”
But just like that, everything changed. “Being 27 years old, you think you’ve had every emotion in the book, from high school to college to making my big league debut to getting married,” Eaton says. “[But] holding my child was such a surreal moment — something my wife and I created together. I’m sure I’ll feel it again with another child, but it won’t be the same feeling as my first. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Eaton didn’t play in the game that day, and Sunday’s game was postponed. But come Monday, he was back on the road, heading to Minnesota for the next series against the Twins. “People ask, ‘How many days did you get with the baby [when he was born]?’ And they’re thinking like, a week,” Eaton says. “Whereas in a lot of professions you can get weeks to be able to spend with your child, it’s very difficult for me to go on the road. I play with a heavy heart every time I’m on the road. I’m definitely in the moment, trying to [play well], but my heart’s with my child and my wife.”
The grueling schedule makes it easy to see, then, why fatherhood has been such a hot topic with the team these days. On March 15, while the team was in spring training in Glendale, Arizona, first basemen Adam LaRoche (seemingly) abruptly retired — that’s big-league speak for quit, leaving behind a $13 million salary — after the team’s executive vice president Kenny Williams asked him to “dial back” the amount of time LaRoche’s 14-year-old son, Drake, was spending in the clubhouse.
Eaton — less than a month away from becoming a father for the first time himself — was one of a number of players who went to bat for LaRoche, voicing his support of his decision. The day after the announcement, Eaton tweeted: “Happy for [LaRoche] and Drake. Family comes first. Proud to have played alongside such a great man/father.”
“Adam was such a big influence in my life,” Eaton says now. “I saw how that father-son relationship was and the model he set for us — for everyone he’s come in contact with. He’s a man’s man, in my opinion. It definitely touched home, if I had a child of my own, because you want to model yourself after [people like] that. On a baseball field, you learn every day who you are. You watch people’s relationships and you try to mimic the positives and take out the negatives.”
And ultimately, baseball is about family, from the very beginning: playing catch in the backyard, bundling up for early season games and wearing matching baseball hats in the summertime. The players, too, are a sort of family, spending as much time as they do together.
“This team is a lot different from most big league baseball teams in the sense that there are a lot of dads on the team,” Eaton says. “I think almost everybody is either pregnant right now or has kids.” Throughout his wife Katie’s pregnancy, and since Brayden was born, Eaton has leaned on teammates like catcher Alex Avila, a father of two daughters, and third baseman Todd Frazier, who has a son and a daughter, for guidance. “A big part of our game is focus — being ready to play every single day. A 162-game schedule is a long year, and [when you have a baby], all of a sudden you throw a very big wrinkle into your routine — sleep patterns [change] and nothing revolves around you anymore and it’s about this little baby boy and taking care of him,” Eaton says. “So [figuring out how] to get my sleep and make sure my family doesn’t fall behind, that’s something I’ve definitely had to lean on those guys for.”
There’ll be lots of advice traded before this time comes, but the topic begs the question: Will he encourage Brayden to play ball? “He’s his own man and that’s how we’re going to treat him,” Eaton says. “If he wants to play baseball, I’ll be readily available. This is a tough game, and the struggles that I go through sometimes I don’t wish upon anybody; it’s a mental grind. I’ll make sure he knows that and he’s up for the challenge. But, being a part of his mom and me, I’m sure he’ll be bull-headed and stubborn as all get-out — so he’ll probably fit in just right in baseball.”
Photos by Ramzi Dreessen