Kratz reflects on long road to the top of his game

Jan 26, 2016 by and

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GOSHEN, Ind. — Inside Goshen College’s athletics building, metal­lic “pings” pricked the air as bat-wielding kids hit — and missed — balls thrown by Goshen baseball players. Murmurs of conversation gurgled in the background.

Then Erik Kratz stepped to the plate.

Major-league catcher Erik Kratz speaks at Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. — Rich Preheim for MWR

Major-league catcher Erik Kratz speaks at Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. — Rich Preheim for MWR

His bat met the first pitch he saw, producing a thunderous crash that reverberated throughout the room. All other sounds seemingly vanished. Then he did it again. And again. And again.

That’s a lot of noise by one of the quiet in the land.

Kratz is a member of Harris­on­burg (Va.) Mennonite Church and a graduate of Christopher Dock High School in Lansdale, Pa., and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. He is also a 14-year veteran of professional baseball and the only known Mennonite church member to play in the major leagues.

He was in Goshen to help lead a baseball clinic at Goshen College in the afternoon of Jan. 18, then speak in the evening at Waterford Mennonite Church, where he shared stories and reflections from his career. The event was a fundraiser for the Waterford youth group.

While Kratz’s athletic success makes him a notable person in the church, don’t call him a celebrity.

“What’s a celebrity? If a celebrity means kids look up to you and want to emulate you, that’s cool,” he said during an interview between the clinic and his Waterford appearance. “When I come to something like this . . . it’s very humbling. To say that I’m a celebrity, that’s a stretch.”

Kratz, a catcher, has signed with the San Diego Padres for the 2016 season, which could potentially put him in an odd situation as a Mennonite. If he makes the team, which can’t be assumed, Kratz will be playing in a strongly pro-military city, which is home to many installations of all branches of the armed forces, plus a host of defense contractors and other military-related businesses.

As a result, the Padres are also strongly pro-military, even wearing military appreciation camouflage baseball uniforms on Sunday home games. But Kratz said he doesn’t feel called to counter that militaristic mindset and explicitly advocate for the peace position. Nor does he feel compelled to “save thousands of fans,” he said.

Rather, Kratz said, he wants to reflect Jesus Christ in all that he does, on the field as well as off.

“I hope everyone sees what I strive for is for the Lord,” he said.

Such an approach is vintage Mennonite discipleship. Another hallmark of the faith is an emphasis on personal relationships.

“What better do Mennonites do than build community?” Kratz said. “That doesn’t mean just your church. Your community is everywhere.”

His community has certainly been in a lot of places. After an All-American career at EMU, Kratz was drafted in the 29th round of the 2002 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He then played for 10 teams in three countries — Canada and the Dominican Republic as well as the United States — during the next eight years before making his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

Kratz spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, including time in the team’s minor league system. The next year the Phillies traded him to Toronto, where Kratz had started his professional career. The Blue Jays traded him to the Kansas City Royals in 2014.

Kratz spent the first months of the 2015 season with Kansas City and its top minor-league club in Omaha. But the Royals waived Kratz in June — just weeks before Mennonite Church USA’s convention in Kansas City, where he was scheduled to give a seminar — which started a coast-to-coast odyssey.

He was claimed by the Boston Red Sox on June 21 but cut eight days later. The Seattle Mariners signed him July 2 and sent him to their minor league team in Tacoma, Wash. But Kratz was released again, this time after 13 days. He then returned to the Phillies, who signed him July 17 and cut him after the season’s conclusion.

The trade to the Blue Jays came at a time when Kratz’s wife, Sarah, was praying about what she should she be doing, he said. When they arrived in Toronto, Sarah discovered there was no Bible study group for the players’ wives. So she started one, which is still meeting, Kratz noted with pride.

While he was with the Royals, the team won its first trip to the World Series in 29 years, which Kansas City lost to the San Francisco Giants. Kratz was the only Royal who never got into a game. He admitted he would have liked to have played in the World Series, but it didn’t leave him angry or bitter.

At age 35, a time when most players’ careers are winding down, Kratz realizes he may never be a first-string catcher. He’s willing to contribute however he can to his team’s success, even if he doesn’t often play.

“I get ready every season to not be [a reserve],” he told his Waterford audience. “But it’s the role I’ve been given. . . . The Lord will bless me in the way I need to be blessed.”


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