OMAHA, Neb. — Ryan Eades and his younger brother settled into the fading Rosenblatt Stadium seats, the watchful eye of a loving adult male and female close by.
It was a delightful, sunny June evening in 2009, and the two high school baseball stars from Slidell, La., had traveled more than 1,026 miles to watch beloved LSU commence the final leg of its national championship run. The sun’s setting painted a picturesque backdrop over the Missouri River, the smell and smoke wafting off the old ballpark’s grills tickled the two brothers’ nostrils, and the stands were jam-packed with purple-and-gold garb.
The place the College World Series used to call home was no Target Field. Neither is the new TD Ameritrade Park where Eades and LSU will try to stave off elimination Tuesday, for that matter.
But for the Twins’ second 2013 draft pick, his family, and his home state, this town’s never been anything short of a Mecca.
“A dream come true,” Eades still calls his first taste of NCAA title baseball.
But there was someone missing as twilight slowly settled over Omaha. The man sitting with Ryan, his brother Chris and his mother Marian was her brother.
Their husband and father, Ned Eades, had passed away in 2004. Ryan was 12.
“He had always wanted to bring me and my brother up here,” Ryan Eades said Monday before LSU’s practice at Bellevue East High School, a few miles down the road from the event’s new venue, which opened in 2011.
Ned Eades’ battle with lymphoma cost his sons a lot of diamond-related experiences. The longtime coach at Northshore High School — they named the stadium there after him in 2005 — wasn’t the man in charge by the time his sons developed into top-level prep athletes. They never got in a summertime trek with him from the Deep South to the Midwest. He wasn’t around on draft day when the Twins nabbed Ryan Eades with the 43rd overall pick.
But as he stepped onto the lush, green turf of TD Ameritrade Park before the Tigers’ opener Sunday, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed pitcher felt he wasn’t alone on Fathers’ Day.
“There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about him, but (Sunday) was kind of a little more touching, kind of hit me a little bit harder,” Eades said. “I knew I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for him. Even though he’s not able to physically see me, he’s still looking after me.”
So with his dad’s memory to honor and a losers bracket to navigate, the dollar signs, haggling and everything that comes with officially becoming a Twin can wait, he says.
At least a day. LSU opted to go with lefty Cody Glenn against North Carolina’s left-handed-hitter-dominant lineup in Tuesday afternoon’s elimination game, leaving Eades as the likely starting option should the Tigers advance. Once the season’s over, he’ll delve into the negotiation process.
A 19th-round pick by the Rockies out of high school, there’s little chance the junior won’t sign a contract with Minnesota.
“Yeah, if things work out,” he said. “We haven’t really talked money and things like that. We’ll do that after the season, but I’m looking forward to starting a professional career whenever that’ll be. We’ll talk to some people and things like that and just cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Eades’ blistering, 94-mph fastball, elusive curveball and developing changeup staked him to an 8-1 record, 2.79 ERA and .269 opponent batting average entering the College World Series. He met expectations as a weekend starter after starting his collegiate career in the bullpen and struggling to get ahead in counts as a sophomore.
His fastball reached 94 mph when he was 16, but a shoulder injury and subsequent labrum surgery kept him from pitching late in his junior year of high school — Northshore claimed a state championship — and all of his senior campaign.
That was the impetus for signing with LSU, a decision that paid off greatly for both sides.
“He’s been a great competitor ever since he’s been at LSU,” Tigers pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “His ability to not give in during games, and maybe if he doesn’t have his best stuff going on a particular day, he still finds a way to battle and get you through games.
“And when he does have his A-game going, it’s been pretty fun to watch him pitch.”
A catcher at Delgado Community College in Louisiana, Chris Eades is just a year younger than his older brother and committed to LSU out of high school. But he decided at the last minute to go the junior college route, partially so he could work on his hitting.
Wondering in high school if he’d ever throw again was difficult for Ryan Eades. So was a rigorous offseason training regimen before his junior year of college. Missing out on throwing pitches to his brother in a Tigers uniform stung, too.
But nothing’s come close to the loss of their father at such a young age.
“With losing him, it was kind of like, ‘Why did this happen to me? I’m only a 12-year-old kid,'” said Eades, who wears No. 37, the same number his dad wore as a member of the Cincinnati Reds organization in the late 1960s.
“I’m just a kid having fun and playing ball and doing what kids do, and then my life was kind of turned around at that time. I felt kind of lost.
“But dealing with things with baseball, as far as that goes, comparing it to losing my dad, it’s just — it’s not a big deal. Guys get into scoring position or you lose a game … you just kind of have to be mentally tough and be able to overcome those things. Take a deep breath, keep your composure and be able to make pitches. You’re gonna get beat sometimes.”
It’s a tenacious mentality that Eades will bring to the Twins’ farm system should he sign, Dunn said, one bred in part from watching his dad travel to New Orleans for chemotherapy treatments then make it back to Slidell for baseball practice.
“He’s had to battle a lot of adversity at a young age, so that makes you grow up quicker than some people that maybe haven’t,” Dunn said. “I think he views the game as another opportunity, having come back from the surgery, and I think he relishes that opportunity to get to take the ball every day and not take it for granted.
“Because it can be taken away from you,” Dunn snaps his thumb and middle finger for emphasis, “like that.”