Kratz plays for U.S. team in Japan

Dec 9, 2019 by and

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After Major League Baseball’s regular season ended, Erik Kratz played fall baseball in a different kind of world series.

Representing Team USA as the starting catcher, Kratz was part of an effort that came up just short of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.

A member of Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church, Kratz ended the season with the New York Yankees’ AAA team in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa. After playing a significant role in the Milwaukee Brewers’ National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies last year, he was traded in March to the San Francisco Giants, who then traded him in May to the Tampa Bay Rays, who released him a few weeks after that.

The 39-year-old has played for nine major league teams since 2010 after graduating in 2002 from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

“I had played with Team USA in 2010, so I kind of kept that line of communication open, just through acquaintances,” Kratz said a few days after returning home to Pennsylvania from wrapping up qualifying tournament games in Japan. “Then when this opportunity became available, they called, and it was a no-brainer.”

As has been the case in the past, the Team USA roster did not include active MLB players because major tournaments like the Olympics take place during the MLB season. In October and November, USA Baseball chose to use players not on MLB 40-man rosters.

The U.S. played against the Netherlands, Mexico and the ­Dominican Republic Nov. 2-4 in Guadalajara, Mexico, to reach the Super Round at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. Although the team beat Japan and Chinese Taipei Nov. 10-16, losses to Korea, Australia and Mexico dropped Team USA to fourth, just missing Olympic qualification.

“It really brings you back to kind of being a kid,” Kratz said. “It brings you back to baseball that is just about the wins and losses. If you do one thing in a game to help a team win, you’re ecstatic, because your stats don’t matter; it’s all about the team.”

For the record, Kratz’s statistics were exemplary. He hit .381 with two home runs in 21 at-bats, starting all but one of Team USA’s games behind the plate.

At the conclusion of games Nov. 10, the World Baseball Softball Confederation named Kratz to the All-World Team, identifying him as the tournament’s best catcher.

Pride of country

Kratz said games in Mexico were exciting because of how loud the fans were, especially in the U.S.-Mexico game.

In Japan, fans knew player-specific chants for everyone on the nation’s “Team Samurai,” even though they play professional all over the country.

“I would love, love, love to see American fans get into the games like Japanese fans do,” Kratz said. “It’s worth the price of the flight to go over and see them interact and be so engaged in the game. They just love the game. . . .

“It was such a pride of country that even the fans get into. I don’t know what it would take for American fans to ever get to that point.”

Erik Kratz

Erik Kratz

Representing the U.S. was also a time for him to reflect on his own pride of country, and what it means for his Anabaptist faith to wear the flag.

“When Mennonite World Review calls for an interview, you know that question’s coming,” he said.

Kratz said it is an honor to represent the United States, regardless of political or church arguments on any particular side.

“I know the Lord wants me to live in the world but not be of the world, and I think that is first and foremost of anything, even over affiliation,” he said. “I’m not in any way idolizing the flag. I’m not condoning everything it stands for, but I’m also respectful of what people have stood for to give me the opportunity to wear that flag on my jersey. . . .

“It will always be a debate in the Mennonite circles, and I think there are always tongue-in-cheek comments when old Mennonite boys play for Team USA. First and foremost is my love and faith in the Lord.”

Kratz is a free agent. He said there are a few offers out there, and he hopes to sign eventually with a team, but first he and his wife, Sarah, need to pray about it.

“With the intent of trying to make the Olympics, I’ve got to stay active and ready to go,” he said of another round of qualifying coming up in March.

He doesn’t know how or when that roster might come together, but until he gets that call, he believes he will be in a team’s camp for spring training in February.


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