On top of the World

Kratz savoring moment on baseball’s biggest stage

Oct 20, 2014 by and

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On July 28, Erik Kratz was scratched from the lineup of the Buffalo Bisons AAA minor-league baseball team. The Toronto Blue Jays had just traded the Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church member to the Kansas City Royals.

Erik Kratz played in 13 games and hit two home runs for the Kansas City Royals this year. — Kansas City Royals

Erik Kratz played in 13 games and hit two home runs for the Kansas City Royals this year. — Kansas City Royals

Three months later, Kratz is in the World Series.

“I wish I could put it into words,” he said by phone Oct. 17 while feeding his son oatmeal on a day off. “I think it is something that any kid that’s played baseball and followed a team — wherever it is you grew up — you’ve dreamt, you’ve pretended in the backyard to be your favorite player, the player that’s in the situation, the World Series. . . .

“It’s something you always talk about, but to have an opportunity to have that experience — it’s beyond words.”

Through eight consecutive postseason wins — from the wild-card thriller against the Oakland Athletics through sweeps of the division and league championship series — Kratz has been ready to fill in for All-Star catcher Salvador Perez should he get injured or need a break.

“He’s a beast, a horse, he’s out there every day,” Kratz said. “I do my bullpen work before the game. During the season I spend time in the bullpen, but there’s a second catcher there now, so I’m in the dugout.”

In nearly every playoff game, he has prepared to enter. If the Royals are behind late in a game and Perez gets on base, manager Ned Yost is likely to replace the 240-pound catcher with one of the team’s speedy pinch runners, whom Kratz would then replace behind the plate.

“It is so much fun,” Kratz said of supporting his team from the bench. “The atmosphere is just unbelievable.”

It has also been fulfilling to experience the team’s improbable run with his family. His wife, Sarah, and his two boys have moved with him throughout his major-league journey — which began in 2010 with the Pittsburgh Pirates after nine minor-league seasons and continued with the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. But the trade to Kansas City occurred just before the start of school. Though they came to Kansas City once during the regular season, it was the longest the family had been apart.

However, Sarah made it to the dramatic wild-card game, and his boys have been with them since the playoffs began.

“It’s so fulfilling knowing that I can experience it with them,” he said. “To see them come out on the field, it’s just as good as celebrating with my teammates.”

Community support

He’s also enjoyed encouragement beyond his immediate family.

Erik Kratz speaks with umpire Paul Emmel Aug. 31 during a Kansas City Royals game against the Cleveland Indians. Kratz hit a double in the game. — Kansas City Royals

Erik Kratz speaks with umpire Paul Emmel Aug. 31 during a Kansas City Royals game against the Cleveland Indians. Kratz hit a double in the game. — Kansas City Royals

“Ever since I’ve been in baseball, when I was drafted out of Eastern Mennonite University, I’ve always felt a lot of support from the Mennonite community,” Kratz said. He also played for Christopher Dock High School in Lansdale, Pa.

The awareness of community is a part of being Mennonite that has helped him in his career.

As the Royals steamrolled through the playoffs, that community grew. Souderton Mennonite Pastor Gerry Clemmer said the congregation followed the Oct. 15 final game against the Baltimore Orioles during its Wednesday community night. Beyond Phillies country, more and more Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada are becoming Royals fans.

“Being associated with the Mennonite church, ultimately we want to spread the word of God and allow ourselves to be examples of him,” Kratz said. “On a smaller scale, the Mennonite community — it’s a bond that I think if I was 12 or 13 years old and growing up in a Mennonite church and there was a Mennonite in the World Series, I would support him too, no matter what team he’s playing for.

“That’s cool and ultimately very comforting to be supported so much by such a wonderful group of folks.”
Back in the clubhouse, Kratz said his teammates know he is Mennonite.

“Most of them really don’t know what that means. I have to explain it,” he said. “I know a lot of guys know that I am Christian and my belief that everything that I’ve been given is from God. It’s not something I brush under the rug, that’s for sure.”

Royal Anabaptist lineage

Kratz is not the first member of the Kansas City Royals to have Mennonite connections. Dan Quisenberry pitched for the team when it won its previous title in 1985.

Quisenberry attended classes — but did not play — at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University and attended Butler Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church there before he was called up to the majors. A member of a Presbyterian congregation, throughout his playing days and until his death in 1998, he identified strongly with themes of peace, justice and compassion.

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