[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in December 2005. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Crossroads, Winter 2005:

Kratz enjoying life in pro baseball
So what’s the best thing about being a professional baseball player? Eastern Mennonite University alumnus Erik Kratz (C 02) says “playing baseball for your job,” along with a possible “opportunity to play in the big leagues one day.”

Kratz, who in the off-season resides in Harrisonburg, has been getting paid to play baseball since the summer of 2002 when he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the annual Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Prior to that, he was a star catcher for EMU Athletics from 1999-2002. Kratz started all 154 games in his four-year career, breaking numerous school, conference and even national records. Several years later, he still holds five different offensive records in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and ranks in the top three in six other categories. Among those records is the career doubles record of 75, which also stands as the all-time NCAA Division III record.

So what do the collegiate records mean to Kratz? “I don’t think I could tell you the categories that I lead,” he said. “Honestly, the best statistic from my career was that every year we won more games than the year before, and every year we broke the school record for wins.”

Indeed, in Kratz’ first season at EMU, the Royals went 18- 15-1. In his sophomore season, the Royals reached 19 wins, followed by 23 in his junior season and 29 in his senior campaign. The wins weren’t the only thing that kept increasing during his career. After hitting .333 with two home runs and 17 runs driven in as a freshman, Kratz increased those numbers to a .507 batting average in his senior season with 14 home runs, 59 RBIs, 72 hits and a .993 slugging percentage. For his career, Kratz hit .415 with 33 home runs and 159 RBIs.

“I wouldn’t trade EMU for the world,” Kratz said of his decision to play Division III baseball instead of testing himself at the Division I level. “Yeah, it would have been nice not to spend money to go to college, but I don’t know how my career would have turned out. I could have gone Division I my freshman year and not made the team or sat the bench. Instead, I came here and started playing right away as a freshman.”

After showing steady improvement at EMU and testing himself in the local Valley Baseball League, Kratz was hoping to have an opportunity at the professional level. “I was sitting in an office in the athletic department and listening to the draft over the internet. I heard them say ‘Erik Kratz drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round.’ I just sat there thinking about it while my friend, Eric Varner, ran out and started telling everyone. I went home and by that time my scout had called. I called my wife at work and my dad. But no one else was home and I didn’t have anything to do so I just went out to the field and started hitting. It was a blur of about two hours. It was awesome; I just remember thinking that all my hard work had paid off.”

Once he received the call for which every baseball player aspires, Kratz was shipped off to the Medicine Hat Blue Jays of the Pioneer League in Alberta, Canada for short-season rookie ball. The following season, he jumped around from spring training, to extended spring training in Florida, to the Dunedin Blue Jays in single-A ball, to the short-season Auburn Doubledays of the New York-Penn League. The 2004 season was more of the same for Kratz with stops in spring training, high-A ball for a week and a half, extended spring training, 25 days at the AA level, one month back with Auburn, and back to high-A to finish the season.

Needless to say, all the jumping around took its toll on Kratz. “It was tough, being married and being apart from my wife. Professionally it was also tough because you always want to move up. You don’t always know what the organization is thinking because they don’t tell you. I thought about quitting a few times, but fortunately I had people around me who told me to wait it out.”

That advice paid off for Kratz as he was rewarded with a full season with the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League as the starting catcher in 2005. He hit .205 with 10 doubles, 11 home runs, and 34 RBIs. He played home games in front of average crowds of 4,235 people and perhaps best of all, his wife, Sarah Troyer (C 01), spent the whole season with him in New Hampshire.

“I don’t think Sarah missed a single home game this year.” Kratz went on to say, “The Fisher Cats had a brand new stadium this year with several sell outs of 7,500 fans. The atmosphere was great and the fans were supportive. They love their Fisher Cats, unless the Red Sox farm team comes in, then they love their Red Sox since we’re only 45 minutes from Boston.”

Among the more unique experiences of the season, ESPN chose a Fisher Cats game as one of the first stops on its 50 states in 50 days tour designed to feature various sporting events in each of the country’s 50 states. Kratz commented on it, saying “The whole town was buzzing about it. I got to shake Stuart Scott’s hand and he threw out the first pitch. We were on Sports Center, so that was cool. I didn’t play in the game but it was still pretty cool. I had friends call and say ‘you’re with the Fisher Cats right? I just saw them on TV!’”

Adding icing to the cake, Kratz was named as one of six players in the organization to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He hit .192 in 16 games with three doubles and two RBIs. Kratz said, “I actually thought they were sending me to the Florida instructional league, but instead they sent me to Arizona, which is way better. A lot of organizations send their top prospects to Arizona. It’s definitely a boost to my confidence in my career. I think 70 percent of the players who play in the AFL go on to play in the Major Leagues.”

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With a shortened off-season thanks to his Arizona experience, Kratz will spend the brief winter working out, building homes with Aaron Yoder (C 01) and Homestead Construction, and watching his sister, Jolene, compete in her sophomore season for the EMU women’s basketball team. He will check into spring training unsure of his 2006 destination, but he’s hopeful of either returning to New Hampshire or receiving a promotion to the AAA Syracuse Skychiefs. His wife is now a fourth grade teacher at Plains Elementary School and will join him wherever he is assigned once the school year ends.

For now, Kratz is hoping to keep getting paid to play baseball, but what are his plans when his career comes to a close? “I really don’t know. I’d like to say I’ll stay in baseball my whole life. It’s what I’ve done and what’s consumed me. Sarah loves baseball too, so if I could coach I might try that.”
—Kevin Warner