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Educated at Anderson U., LaPorte grad Eaton is experiencing independent pro ball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Eaton thoroughly enjoyed his time on and off the baseball field at Anderson (Ind.) University.

Since his last game with the Ravens, the pitcher has been experiencing life as an independent professional player. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder left-handed pitcher is currently on the disabled list for the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things of the Frontier League.

“Faith has been a vital part of my baseball journey — in large part thanks to my development at Anderson University — and I feel fortunate that I am today in pro ball,” says Eaton, who completed his undergraduate accounting degree in 2015 and Masters of Business Administration with a focus on global business in 2016.

Eaton, a 2011 LaPorte High School graduate, pitched for Anderson in the spring of 2012 and 2013 and underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in the fall of 2013, missing the 2014 spring season.

“It was from wear and tear,” says Eaton. “The ligament wasn’t torn. I had just put so much stress on it over the years, it wasn’t protecting the nerve anymore.

“I talked with a surgeon at Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis. I wanted to continue playing baseball.”

Eaton was given the option of skipping the surgery and going through physical therapy with a chance of success at about 45 percent or getting the procedure with an expected 90 percent success rate.

“It was kind of a no-brainer for me,” says Eaton, who came back to pitch for the Ravens in 2015 and 2016.

David Pressley was the head coach at AU for Eaton’s first four years at the school.

After Anderson won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and qualified for NCAA Division III regional play in 2015, Pressley went back to his home state of Alabama to coach at powerhouse Madison Academy High School.

“I really grew as a person and player at Anderson,” says Eaton. “I learned to be role model for kids. (Presley) taught me how to be a better man and helped me develop my faith.”

Dustin Glant served as Ravens head coach in 2016 before becoming pitching coach at Ball State University.

“(Glant) helped me increase my velocity 6 mph in the (2015-16) off-season,” says Eaton. “I wouldn’t have stood a shot at pro ball if he wasn’t there for my last season at Anderson.”

In three college seasons, the southpaw appeared in 34 games (30 as a starter) with a 16-5 record, 3.21 earned run average, 161 strikeouts and 84 walks in 193 2/3 innings.

Spending much of his time for seven years studying, playing or working out around Anderson, Eaton also was employed part-time doing accounts payable and receivable for Reflectix, a stock reflective insulation manufacturer.

Eaton’s pro path has included stops with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the American Association and Tucson (Ariz.) Saguaros in the Pecos League in 2016 and the AA’s Salina (Kan.) Stockade (which played all its games on the road) and Washington in 2017. He signed with the Wild Things in July, made 12 appearances (all in relief) with 1-0 record, one save, 2.21 ERA, 23 K’s and seven free passes in 20 innings and was re-signed in October for the 2018 season.

An ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain near the same area where he had Tommy John surgery has kept Eaton out of action so far this season. He got a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection and is back in LaPorte, where is working out and going through exercises to improve his wrist grip and forearm strength.

“I’m working on my core, cardio or legs — or a mix of them,” says Eaton of his regular gym sessions. Just this past week, he began doing light biceps and shoulder work.

It’s all about building strength back up around his left elbow.

Eaton says he expects to begin throwing again around July 2 and report back to the Wild Things a week after that, though the “diehard Indianapolis Colts fan” did plan to be in Washington to see former NFL Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee play for the Things at It’s All About the Warrior Field at ConSol Energy Park.

Eaton has been following the team’s game on video streaming.

Four pitches are in Eaton’s arsenal — four-seam fastball (he does work on a two-seamer during bullpen sessions), curveball, slider and “circle” change-up from the three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was consistently clocked at 86 to 89 mph on his heater while touching 90 a few times last season.

“As a left-hander, I can get away with a lot more than a righty would,” says Eaton.

But he has learned that there is a drastic difference between facing D-III and professional hitters.

“You have to use a lot more off-speed going into pro ball,” says Eaton. “Sometimes, you can blow it by them in D-III ball. (Pro) hitters a lot better at adjusting.

“They are good at picking up on your mechanics. That’s like smelling blood in the water for the hitter. They see it’s going to be a off-speed pitch and sit back on it.”

At LaPorte High School, Eaton was part of the Scott Upp-coached Slicers varsity for his junior and senior seasons. In 2010, he was 1-0, 1.05 and 20 strikeouts and six walks in 13 1/3 innings for a 27-4 team.

Eaton was 4-3, 4.16, 34 strikeouts and 14 walks in 38 2/3 innings for a 20-10-1 club in his senior season of 2011.

Upp is credited for teaching Eaton about always having an aggressive approach to the game.

“You can’t go in with a soft approach,” says Eaton. “You have to attack everyone.”

One thing Eaton appreciates about the Wild Things is that they are not as likely to swiftly cut someone after a few sub-par performances or for the promise of a better player.

“They stick by you and trust you and give you a sense of security,” says Eaton. “As long as you do everything to your full potential.

“That’s why we usually have such a good clubhouse. Guys can get close and don’t have to worry about leaving the next day.”

Eaton doesn’t mind the distance from home with the way he is treated.

“It’s well worth it playing for a classy organization like Washington,” says Eaton, who grew up in LaPorte and played in the local Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth baseball leagues, beginning at age 11.

His summer travel baseball experience included the Indiana Breakers in 2010 and Plymouth American Legion Post 27 in 2011.

Summers during his college days, were spent working a job and working out.

Eaton counts work ethic as his best quality as an athlete.

“I’ve always got a focus and a plan going into my workout or my day,” says Eaton. “I know what I need to do to get better.”

Jake is the son of Steve Eaton and Terri Wainscott and has a older half sister named Nikki.

His father is a retired from more than 40 years as a bricklayer.

“I mixed a lot of mortar for him over the years,” says Jake of projects around the house.

His mother is a registered nurse.

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Jake Eaton, a LaPorte High School graduate who holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Anderson (Ind.) University, is in independent pro baseball with the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things. (Washington Wild Things Photo)

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Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

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