As Chris Eaton moves over to Sandia High School, he had two men very much on his mind when he became the Matadors new baseball coach last week.
One of those men is Paul Huitt, Sandia Prep’s longtime coach and where Eaton served as a co-head coach last season.
“Aside from my parents,” Eaton said, “Paul Huitt is the most influential person in my life. I owe just about everything to him.”
The other man is the late John Gunther.
“He really pushed for me in the final months of his life,” Eaton said of Gunther, the former Sandia coach who passed away in March after a 15-month battle with cancer.
Gunther’s son Robert, who took over the Matadors full-time after his dad’s death, decided to move on to new things, leaving Sandia with an opening for 2018.
Eaton, 29, a former player at Sandia Prep and Cibola and later at Eastern New Mexico — and a college assistant for many years in the region — knew this was the right time and the right place to make this leap.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a head coach and run my own program,” he said. “It’s an honor and privilege to join the Sandia community.
“Sandia baseball has endured a difficult and emotional couple of years,” Eaton added. “I’m going to do the very best I can for coach Gunther.”
Eaton is a former graduate assistant to Ray Birmingham at the University of New Mexico. He’s also coached at West Texas A&M, New Mexico Highlands, Colorado School of Mines and Texas A&M at Texarkana.
He joined Sandia Prep’s coaching staff before the 2016 season. As a prep player, he started his career at Sandia Prep, then transferred to Cibola for his junior and senior years.
Eaton said Gunther’s influence was “humbling.”
“I was honored to have him believe in me and have that faith. It’s kind of hard to put into words, because he’s a special man,” Eaton said.
Eaton, who will be a teacher at Sandia, visited with Gunther the week before he died.
“I’m sitting with him and his sons, and one of the last things he said to me was, ‘I will be looking down on your when you guys win a state championship.’ “