Eaton Leads-Off For Knights
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 30, 2014, 10:29
Nathan Eaton had been a key cog for the Knights atop the lineup
CHESTER — Watch the Thomas Dale baseball team take the field and one is immediately drawn to junior Nathan Eaton. The Knights' starting shortstop is hard to miss with his Bryce Harper-inspired eye-black which drips down his face and hard-nosed style of play.
And while the eye-black is the symbolic portion of his style of play, it doesn't take fans or opposing players long to see what he can do to affect the game with his baseball acumen. In fact, in a game against Colonial Heights last week, Eaton successfully completed two heady plays which both changed and maintained momentum for Thomas Dale.
Leading off the game, Eaton smashed a hard-hit grounder to third base and immediately hustled down the first base line, forcing an error to reach base. Without hesitation, Eaton took off for second on the very next delivery, successfully swiping the bag and advancing to third base on a wild throw.
But the junior was not done.
In the 6th inning, Eaton hit a jam-shot right behind the second base bag which was corralled by the shortstop. However, he saw an opportunity to round first and head for second as he slid head-first. But as he lifted himself off the dirt, Eaton noticed the third baseman running over to second while leaving third unoccupied and took off again.
It was the type of heady baseball play which sets Eaton apart from other players and makes him a staple of the Thomas Dale offense.
"He plays the game like an old-school guy," manager Chris Marshall said of the play after the game. "There's not many left that play like him. Man, he plays like Pete Rose. Sometimes I get a little irritated with him, but he's giving me every ounce of energy he has."
Added Eaton, "I remember the shortstop fell on the ground and I was pretty sure he had the ball. Then, I knew I could beat the third baseman in a foot race, so I just went. I've always been like that."
Eaton can remember times in Little League where he would challenge other catchers after they caught the ball and raced for the other base. It's a dare-devil mentality coupled with baseball IQ which cannot be taught.
It's why it's no surprise Eaton is one of three co-captains on the Thomas Dale roster and is also the more vocal of three. Both Collin Fleischer and Brian Goodwyn are soft-spoken individuals while Eaton's voice can be heard from the stands while out on the diamond as he implores his teammates to make a pitch or relay instructions for who covers second on a stolen base attempt.
That fiery desire to put his teammates into a better position to be successful while also doing whatever he can on the defensive and offensive side of the ball, has helped spark a revival for the Knights in recent weeks. After winning just one of their first four games, Thomas Dale has captured five-straight wins.
Those wins have mostly been courtesy of a pitching staff which has allowed the Knights to outscore opponents by a 44-5 margin with Eaton being a key force in the middle. Facing Manchester, it was Eaton who completely manhandled a dangerous lineup while racking up 14 batters and allowing just one hit.
His manager called it, "one of the best performances in Thomas Dale history," but Eaton said it was just a matter of execution.
"I really wasn't worried about hitting that day and just focused on pitching," he explained. "I just threw the ball and it felt good. Everything was working ... I only threw 15 pitches in the bullpen because we were running late with infield-outfield, but it felt good."
Nathan Eaton's hitting, base running and pitching have led helped Thomas Dale during the streak
While his pitching prowess has stolen some headlines with his outing against Manchester and a 1-0 loss to Cosby, Eaton's production for Thomas Dale on the base paths and at the plate are most vital to a team with high aspirations.
Eaton has quickly become a terror at the top of the lineup for the Knights after being called up to varsity in the middle of his freshman season and been a stalwart ever since. The junior's ability to get on-base and steal bases seemingly at will has been an X-factor for the Knights.
Opposing pitchers tend to lose focus with him on base and often times find themselves making bad pitches to the rest of the lineup, giving Thomas Dale an added advantage. It's a mindset Eaton has as the team's lead-off hitter and co-captain to put his team in the best situation to earn a win even with what could be called baseball-speed.
"It's about getting into the pitcher's head," he said of his on-base antics. "I just keep running if I can see an open opportunity."
And with Eaton atop the lineup, on the mound and on the base paths, Thomas Dale sees an opportunity to sustain their recent success as they follow the lead of their vocal leader.