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MLB to MSU: Adam Eaton's dynamic path from World Series champion to player development coach

May 14, 2024
<p>Adam Eaton. Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications.</p>

Adam Eaton. Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications.

Baseball is a game that brings people together. Even the smallest connections are big ones in a game full of them. 

MSU baseball Director of Player Development Adam Eaton’s connection to Michigan State started in 2006 during head coach Jake Boss Jr.'s tenure at Eastern Michigan University, when he was recruited by Boss. Ultimately, Eaton attended Miami of Ohio, staying in state just over 70 miles away from his hometown of Springfield, Ohio.

Eaton was often on campus during the tenure of his sister-in-law's brother, Zach Osburn, a hockey player at Michigan State from 2015-2019. He said that's when he took a liking to MSU — his kids enjoyed campus as well as the hockey team.

Following his retirement from the Major League Baseball, or MLB, after an accolade-filled, 10-year MLB career, Eaton said he started to golf often, or in his words, he was "trying to live the life of a retired baseball player." It was then that Eaton and Boss Jr. reconnected on numerous occasions.

"One of my good buddies had a golf outing with him, and I think (Jake) Boss asked what I was doing," Eaton said. "At the time, I wasn't really doing all that much, and he asked, 'You know, would you be willing to help us out?’ And I said, 'Yeah, it'd be great.' (I) answered the next day, 'Would love to help out,' (to) see what the organization and the team was all about. (The) rest is history after that."

Eaton's role with the team isn't clearly defined by design because he brings a multitude of services to the table. He helps with aspects such as, what he's been taught on and off the field, routines of pro baseball, what a good teammate looks like, what a good team looks like and more. 

"Being able to see them and talk with them, and hopefully if I could further their career in any way," Eaton said of his role. "That's kind of my job, I guess. It's been very enjoyable, and I've had a lot of fun with it the two years that I've done it."

Eaton also spoke about what his future may have in store for coaching.

"I don't want to speculate on what I may or may not do. I just really, really enjoy what I'm doing right now, and I have a really good scenario with (Michigan) State and with Boss," Eaton said. "(It) kind of allows me around the team and the group of guys that we have there, and just everything about it really fits my needs the very moment. With that being said, again, I don't really know what the future may hold. (You) never really know."

One of the challenges of coaching, especially in baseball, is managing not only personalities, but also different skill sets and mindsets from player to player, whether that be an approach at the plate, on the mound or in the field. Eaton spoke about those challenges and his transition and approach to coaching after coming from the MLB.

"It's a great challenge that I love every single day because everybody has a different language about hitting; everybody has a different outlook on hitting; everybody does things differently." Eaton said. "So, there's different techniques; there’s different attitudes and for me to learn each guy's language, learn each guy's attitude, what makes them click, what can get them in the right train of thought that day and how can we get the most out of their ability is a current challenge for me to be able to learn each and every single guy on our staff and what makes them turn.

Once we figure out what that is, you know to continue to progress them towards, say, a guy that they see in the big leagues is doing the exact same thing that they are."

Eaton said he enjoyed coming down in talent level from the MLB to college because of the potential for improvement collegiate athletes show. From a talent standpoint, Eaton said he believes a team is only as strong as its weakest link. 

Baseball is a sport that encompasses players of all different types of body types, heights, weights and backgrounds. Eaton played at the highest level, and played well, despite being 5-foot-9 in a league that has a median height of around 6-foot-2. He said to be successful in baseball at his height, he had to be very knowledgeable. Eaton also said he tries to approach coaching in the same way that his former coaches did, and that he’s a "vessel from previous coaches (and) previous players that have taught him how to play the game."

Young players who want to reach a level they dream of, such as the MLB, cannot do it without advice in some way or fashion. Eaton offered his own. Although he labeled it cliche, it rings true to him.

"I just think: (Get) better every day. It's easy to say it; it's very difficult to do it,” Eaton said.  "People say a lot of things but to actually do it is a whole different avenue. Don't act like it — be about it, and go and do it. If there's a high school player out there that may not be the best player on his team, know that I was that kid."

"Give yourself a chance; continue to work hard. If you're the best player on your team, you better keep going,” Eaton added. "Just always know there's somebody in front of you."

Throughout Eaton’s career, he played for four teams after being drafted in 2010. He started with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he made his MLB debut in 2012 and accomplished all of his firsts. He then was moved to the Chicago White Sox before becoming a Washington National (where he eventually won a World Series in 2019). After that, he returned to Chicago briefly and played as a Los Angeles Angel before his retirement in 2022.

During that time period, Eaton accomplished many things. Also during that time, he played for, with and against some of the best players and coaches in MLB history. He spoke about some of his favorite moments as an MLB player and thus far at Michigan State.

"As a player, my debut — no doubt," said Eaton. "Anytime you can have a culmination of your entire existence as a human being wrapped up in one day, I think those are pretty big days. ... I had coaches there, I had my in-laws there in a place that I never imagined that I'd ever be, with my wife."

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Eaton also mentioned winning a World Series championship was a very similar feeling due to the culmination of life events and all the people. At MSU, between putting multiple players into the MLB last season and talking to them during their journey, to helping MSU make the Big Ten tournament, he has a lot to be proud of. 

During his time in the MLB, Eaton played against several of Major League Baseball's greatest players, but one specific pitcher -- the great Clayton Kershaw -- bothered Eaton to the point of nightmares. Eaton himself was a left hander, and while he said that never bothered him too much (.266. career batting average against lefties, .279 against right-handers), it only added to the multitude of things the southpaw pitcher did to throw him off. 

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