ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CBS) – In professional baseball, there is something about veteran minor leaguers that makes them very easy to root for. Maybe it’s the dedication and perseverance they show in pursuing their dream, while riding buses for hours to towns like Medicine Hat and Akron and New Haven to sometimes play in front of a few hundred people.
Whatever it is, you love to see guys finally get their shot as their early twenties transition to their late twenties and early thirties.
Erik Kratz has logged more than 2,200 at-bats in minor league baseball since being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round in 2002. All that experience finally did lead to a call to the bigs — at the age of 30.
The Telford, Pa. native and current Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs’ catcher made his Major League debut last year, getting 34 at-bats for the Pirates during a July call-up.
It was a dream come true, and Kratz talks about how long it took him to settle in to being a big leaguer:
“As far as everything around the game, the whole time, it was a short-lived opportunity. But as far as the game goes, I feel like once the game started, it was still just another game,” Kratz says. “I wasn’t completely comfortable the whole time — it felt like there were some things I just needed to relax, and I think in some situations I could have relaxed a little bit better. But it was quick. And it was awesome.”
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with Erik Kratz in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
However, success can be fleeting, and Kratz a few months later found himself a minor league free agent.
On December 1st he signed on with the Phillies, presenting the possibility that his next Major League call-up would put him in the uniform of the team he grew up watching.
But Kratz says that that wasn’t the motivation when he came to the Phillies’ organization.
“My wife and I , we prayed about it a lot. We tried to just make the best baseball decision,” Kratz tells KYW Newsradio. “We are fortunate we have two young kids that can still travel. There was an opportunity on the west coast that we weighed for a little bit. But we weren’t looking for the ‘close to home’ thing, we were looking for strictly baseball, strictly opportunity to get to the big leagues. And the Phillies were above and beyond that.”
And Kratz has done his part to make himself a viable option for the big club, should an opportunity present itself. In 48 games, he is hitting .277 with 10 home runs and 28 runs batted in.
He’s also been solid behind the plate. He says he has found himself thinking about what it would be like if the call came telling him that he was heading to Philadelphia. But, he admits…
“It can’t be your focus. You have to attack every day here (at Lehigh Valley) with the pitching staff here, with the pitchers that I’m facing here, and you got to try and have success here. But you have to be able to do the right things to put yourself in a situation where they can call you up if that situation comes.”
Kratz name was floated as a possible call-up earlier this season when Carlos Ruiz was banged up and Brian Schneider got hurt, but the Phillies decided to go with Dane Sardinha instead.
“I’m not going to lie to you — I sat there and I said, ‘Am I going to get to play for the Phillies?’ ” Kratz recalls.
It didn’t happen then, but Kratz is hopeful it will soon.
“I grew up listening to the Phillies on the radio. Watching them every once in a while on Prism (former cable channel). That tells you how old I was, if you’ve been around here for a while. My uncle had Prism, so we’d every once in a while go over there. That was a treat to see them on Prism. Hopefully it’s going to happen, but God will take care of that and it’s out of my hands, and it’s something that will happen if it’s meant to happen. And I will definitely be excited — yeah.”
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060