WASHINGTON -- Usually at this time of the year, when players are exhausted from the grind of the season, Adam Eaton doesn't always feel like coming to the ballpark. Every day, he sees the same people and follows the same routine before trotting out to center field for the game.But
WASHINGTON -- Usually at this time of the year, when players are exhausted from the grind of the season, Adam Eaton doesn't always feel like coming to the ballpark. Every day, he sees the same people and follows the same routine before trotting out to center field for the game.
But this year, Eaton has a new appreciation when he walks into the clubhouse. Since tearing his left ACL on April 28, Eaton even has a new gratitude for standing up in the morning.
Speaking with reporters for the first time since the injury before the Nationals' game with the Rangers on Sunday afternoon, Eaton said he's ahead of schedule in his recovery process and has gained a new love for baseball while sitting out. At the time of the injury, he was told he'd be out six to nine months, but he hopes to be able to play if the Nationals make the postseason.
"I'm going to get that function back into my leg and I'm going to be just fine," Eaton said. "It's an experience of a lifetime that I hopefully don't have to go through again, and I can learn my lessons from it and move on."
Eaton hopped on his right leg with crutches to make his way from the clubhouse to the dugout to speak with reporters. He said he could move his leg with full extension just a few days after the injury, and he's walking without crutches in therapy.
Eaton arrives about the time the Nationals begin batting practice before every game so he doesn't bother the trainers when they're treating active players. He works out for three or four hours, then ices his knee when the game starts. He repeats that process six days per week. When the team's on the road, he comes to the training room around 9 a.m.
Even though he's not on the field, Eaton, who was hitting .297 in 23 games, stays involved with the team by giving tips to outfielders or just saying hello to his teammates in the training room.
"I hope that my presence here is felt just in the sense that I'm dedicated to them just as they've been dedicated to me," Eaton said. "I love this city. I love the people within the organization, and I love everyone that's involved.
"I want to return the favor. You've invested time in me and effort. I want to stay here, I want to stay with the team in any way, shape or form. I just want to ... be able to show those guys this guy can't even walk, but he's happy, he's excited to be here."
While Eaton worries about his recovery, thoughts about his future have crept into his mind. He won't be an unrestricted free agent until 2020, due to the 5-year, $23.5 million contract he signed with the White Sox in 2015, but Michael Taylor has thrived as his replacement in center field, slashing .250/.287/.433 while making some highlight-reel plays. Most of all, though, the 28-year-old Eaton is concerned about how the injury will affect his performance the rest of his career.
After talking for about 12 minutes, Eaton bounced back on his crutches and to the clubhouse. He may be doing his work out of the spotlight, but he has a new appreciation for just being at the ballpark every day.
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.