Updated: May 2, 2014 6:29AM
Opening Day represented Day 1 of Adam Eaton’s audition for a big-league job as White Sox center fielder.
“He does the things you look for in a leadoff man,” manager Robin Ventura said.
With his wife, his parents, his in-laws and a cousin in the house at U.S. Cellular Field, Eaton assured himself a call-back with a 2-for-4 day that featured two singles and a run. The Sox treated a crowd of 37,422 to a 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins behind Alejandro De Aza’s two home runs and Chris Sale’s deft pitching.
“What a great atmosphere,” Eaton said. “I tried to downplay it all week and trick myself like it was my 10th or 15th opener. It was an experience like I’ve never had before.”
Paul Konerko is on his victory lap and Gordon Beckham is mired in will-he-or-won’t-he limbo, so the role of Sox fan favorite is available as well. Based on recent history, Eaton, 25, is a credible candidate — he views his “dirtbag” label as high praise and said he feels unfulfilled if he leaves the field with a clean uniform.
Chicago has a thing for the type — many Cubs fans would have embraced a post-Sammy Sosa outfield of Sam Fuld, Reed Johnson and Tony Campana.
Sox fans, too — remember the 2005 All-Star Game? You were a godless Communist if you didn’t write in Scott Podsednik for the last American League roster slot.
And the furor that greeted the Aaron Rowand trade? It brought Jim Thome, a future Hall of Famer, to the South Side. Big deal. Initially, at least, Sox fans preferred Rowand’s grass-stained grit to Thome’s majestic home runs.
Eaton, who saw plenty of those home runs growing up an Indians fan in Springfield, Ohio, has heard the story and is incredulous.
“Jim Thome is like a baseball monument,” he said.
Eaton might fit in Thome’s pocket. He has to stretch to reach his listed roster height of 5-8, and when he gets on base, he has been known to stand on the bag to look taller.
“It’s a bigger man’s game, and I’ve been hearing I’m too short since I started playing,” Eaton said. “It’s probably where I get my motivation. I think it’s why I was a 19th-round draft choice.”
His solution has been to compensate for his lack of heft with hustle. Some former Diamondbacks teammates evidently felt he overdid the energy and went public with anonymous gripes after a three-team deal in December brought Eaton to the Sox for pitcher Hector Santiago and outfielder Brandon Jacobs.
Eaton was stung by the criticism. Enter Konerko, a Scottsdale neighbor, whose counsel helped ease his transition to a new city and a new clubhouse.
“I had him up to my house to hit a few times, and basically we talked about what he could expect in Chicago,” Konerko said. “He didn’t need much from me as far as baseball goes. He’s got good tools, and his mental approach is very tight.”
Eaton appreciates Konerko’s interest.
“You don’t just go up to a player of Paul Konerko’s stature and say, ‘Hey, Paul, how’s it going?’ So it was nice of him to reach out to me,” he said. “He’s really helped me.”
The Sox aren’t about to ask Eaton to tone it down.
“The way he plays, you worry about him running into a wall,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “But if he can stay healthy, he’ll be fine.”
Not every day is going to go as well as Monday, but Ventura believes Eaton has the even-keel makeup required of a major-leaguer.
‘‘He takes pitches, he fights off pitches, then he’ll do something with a pitch he wants,” Ventura said. “You don’t often see that in a young player. I like the way he prepares and goes about his business. We’ll know more after he’s been here awhile and has to deal with failure.”
Failure? Perish the thought on a day when Eaton singled sharply to center in the first inning, ripped a single to right in the third and scored the Sox’ third run on Jose Abreu’s second hit.
“A hard-nosed team on the blue-collar side of town,” Eaton said. “It could be a good fit.”