The new Nationals centerfielder is only 5-foot-8, not big by Big League standards. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up in heart. “Anybody that’s small in size — in this game especially— you definitely play with a chip on your shoulder.”
Eaton pointed to two excellent examples: the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox — both All-Star second basemen.
“Smaller guys can play this game and at a high level,” he said.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo loves Eaton’s toughness — calls him a grinder — and a team scout told me how impressed he was with his all-around game and that he believes D.C. fans are going to love him.
Eaton enjoys connecting with the fans.
“I always tell fans that half of them are taller than me and to tell their little ones that anything’s possible no matter the size or the strength,” Eaton said.
It only seems natural that Eaton identifies with Mighty Mouse. In the Clubhouse, before and after the Nats held their first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Sunday, Eaton was proudly wearing his “go-to T-shirt,” a bulked up version of the cartoon character.
“I was called this in college,” he said. “I try to have a little Napoleon syndrome and just try and embrace the Mighty Mouse character.”
Jayson Werth will play in left field alongside his new teammate, but he’s not new to playing with players of Eaton’s stature, citing Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in Philadelphia. “I don’t think in this game necessarily that size is any indication of skill or anything else,” he said.
Manager Dusty Baker agrees. He was on a Dodgers team with an infield that was considered one of the best in history: Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey. None were over six feet tall. “Those were some bad dudes, man,” he said.
Because of his size, Eaton had his doubters as he grew up. But, he eventually came to terms with it. “The 19th-round draft pick stuck with me for a little while,” he said.
Now, he’s proven it on the field, hitting 14-homers each of the last two seasons. He’s also averaged 16-stolen bases, 28-doubles, and 94-runs during that time.
“It won’t be pretty half the time,” he said. “I don’t have the most beautiful swing, I don’t have the most crisp running, but I just try and get the job done the best that I can.”
He plans on being a sparkplug wherever he bats in the lineup.
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