A League of His Own

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of MemphiSport.

It’s the ninth inning, the game is winding down. The signal has been given to the University of Memphis bullpen to bring in the closer.

“Bad Company” begins to play on the loud speakers and No. 32 Jonathan Van Eaton, makes his way to the mound with an unmistakable look of intensity and purpose on his face.

A few pitches later the inning comes to a close and Jonathan’s job is done.

Van Eaton, a 20-year-old junior interdisciplinary studies major is a Memphis native. He began his baseball career when he was 5 years old. He discovered his passion for the game two years later while playing wiffle ball with his brother one afternoon. It was at this moment he said he realized he wanted baseball to be more than just a game; he wanted it to be his life.

“I had visions of just bunches of fans surrounding my backyard, it was odd it was very odd … I feel like that is my life calling to be a baseball player,” Van Eaton said.

In his youth, Van Eaton played for The Memphis Travelers baseball team. While in high school he played for APAK travel team in addition to playing for his school team, Arlington High School. He was the starting pitcher for Arlington from the end of his sophomore year through his senior year. Van Eaton is the record holder for wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts at Arlington.

Van Eaton came to the U of M with a singular purpose, to make his childhood dream a reality. He made it clear to his athletic academic advisor that baseball came before everything else. As one baseball coach said according to Van Eaton, the players are majoring in “baseballology.”

“I immediately went to my academic counselor and said look, I don’t want to be here very long,” he said. “Put me in the easiest classes possible. I want to study nothing I want to commit a 100 percent of my time to baseball, that’s what I’m here for. That’s what I want to do, if people want to support me while I do it than more power to them.”

In addition to being the closer for the U of M baseball team Van Eaton is also one of the

co-captains. He was elected by his teammates, which he said demonstrates how his fellow Tigers trust him and recognize his ability to lead.

Leadership is not something he says he learned or tries to do, but rather it is an instinctive part of himself.

“The captains aren’t the ones who put down consequences on others, but we are the ones who prevent them from happening,” Van Eaton said. “It is our job to remind and enforce the way the Memphis baseball program is run.”

Practices, travel, games and school consume the majority of his time; however, when he is not on the field Van Eaton said he is usually spending time with his No.1 fan, his girlfriend Jenny Johnston.

Johnston said she understood from day one the role baseball plays in her boyfriend’s life.

“When I first met him baseball is all he talked about, and I know that playing baseball will make him the happiest person in the world,” Johnston said.

While baseball is a huge time commitment Van Eaton said he is confident the hard work he puts in now will pay off in the future.

“It’s a job that I love and I hope to get paid for it one day and support a family on it,” he said. “If I got the opportunity to play baseball professionally, I would be able to live while I make a living. Some people work so hard to make a living and they never get to live.”

Playing on a Division 1 collegiate team has provided Van Eaton a platform to showcase his talent to prospective scouts, which he hopes will lead to him getting drafted by a major league baseball team before he graduates.

When scouts come to observe the talent of the various U of M players, Van Eaton says he treats those games no differently than any other.

“Pressure only falls on the shoulders of the unprepared,” he said. “It’s kind of like OK, let me do what I have done my whole life and you get to watch me do it. I get to show off and pitch my game and if you like it then you like it.”

In the 2011 season Van Eaton made 11 appearances and finished with a 6.48 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 16.2 innings of pitching. With the 2012 season now underway, Van Eaton leads the team with eight appearances. He has 1 save and is 2-1 with an ERA of 1.64.

While Van Eaton says at the moment he is putting all of his eggs into one basket he does on occasion find himself doing a reality check.

“I don’t like to admit it but sometimes I think about life after baseball, and I don’t know, I don’t know what it would be like,” he said.

Written by Meaghan Nichols, photos courtesy of the University of Memphis


  1. I love this story. How many saves does he have so far this season?

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