Early last season, Adam Eaton bristled at the notion that he should figure out how to cut his balls-to-the-walls style of play with some self-preservation instincts. To his credit, he eventually understood that the suggestion was born more out of concern than criticism.
Now he's trying to relay that message to another oft-injured speedster in Micah Johnson:
Sitting two chairs away in the White Sox clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, Eaton has been in Johnson’s ear about the importance of taking care of his body.
"He’s more explosive than I am on the basepaths,’’ Eaton said of the 24-year-old second baseman. "I’m trying to instill in him the lessons I learned last year.’’
The lesson is don’t wait till you’re hurting. Get in the cold tub before things begin to hurt.
"Hopefully we can kind of be buddies in the cold tub together and make sure we maintain ourselves and police each other when we’re tired and don’t want to do that,’’ Eaton said.
Johnson is trying to ram down the door with a .455/.500/.727 line over his first nine spring games, and the more you read about the way others talk about him, the more it seems like he's being prepped for a big-league introduction. Robin Ventura is trying to offer compliments without signaling anything greater:
"You notice his speed and his range ... his at-bats," Ventura said, no doubt impressed that two of those hits came against lefties. "You start seeing what people are talking about, and he's getting in the middle of everything. He just continues to play hard and play with purpose."
Alexei Ramirez is forming a connection with Johnson:
"I’ve been watching him and I think he’s good," Ramirez said. "We already have a good connection because he speaks Spanish. It’s easier for me to communicate with him.
"He has to prove it. His ability is ready. Like Sanchez also. You have to play and prove it."
And Johnson even credits Gordon Beckham with an assist:
"Beckham is awesome," said Johnson, who marvels at his teammate's defense. "He is, by far, one of the best. I'm glad he came back. I always loved learning from the guy. He stays on me."
There are still 2½ weeks for the story to change. Johnson has handled just about everything hit his way -- certainly all the routine plays -- but he hasn't been peppered with an array of batted balls in any game yet. And whenever he makes his first mistake in the field, he'll have to avoid making a second and third one in short order, as errors seemed to bunch up on him in the minors.
He also hasn't been particularly adventurous on the basepaths -- he has just one stolen-base attempt, and it was unsuccessful. Then again, when you read Eaton's quotes, maybe the coaching staff is trying to make sure Johnson gets through spring in full working order, too.