Erik Kratz ‘02, Alumnus of the Year, has touched the lives of hundreds of athletes and sports professionals, and even more fans, during his 18 years playing professional baseball in one of the most complex and demanding positions in the game. As a catcher, he is a strategist, psychologist, counselor, coach and manager, developing strong collaborative relationships with the largest staff on the team’s roster, 12 or 13 pitchers, each of whom bring their own temperaments and distinctive skills to the mound.
On a wintery first day of Royals baseball practice in January 2019, the EMU baseball team was introduced to special guest Erik Kratz ’02. Not long removed from his first-career postseason run with the Milwaukee Brewers, the 16-year MLB veteran had reached out and asked to share a special message with Royals players.
“Erik told the guys that in all the baseball he has played in his life, he still has vivid memories of games and times with his teammates at EMU and he wanted to emphasize to them how meaningful those college years were,” said then head coach Ben Spotts. “I am proud to say that Erik has never forgotten about his days at EMU as a player and a student and has maintained a close connection with our program. He genuinely cares about our program, players, and the experience our players have in their time at EMU.”
Kratz’s message was powerful, but so were his actions: the Royals had seen firsthand his off-season training routine and “the work he puts in the weight room and the cages as well as his long-toss program,” Spotts said.
Their witness to his perseverance, work ethic, dedication and faith was a unforgettable lesson, said Daniel Scott ’19, an outfielder who had the opportunity to throw with Kratz in the off-season.
In Scott’s nomination for Kratz as Alumnus of the Year, he wrote: “Erik is deserving because he is one of the few Division III athletes to make it and be successful in the big leagues. He hasn’t had an easy journey, being on 14 different teams and being sent up and down to the minors, but through his faith, he has been able to stay on the right path.”
Kratz’s 2018 postseason run with the Brewers earned both the player and his alma mater some publicity, much to the delight of his fans. “I’ve appreciated seeing an alumnus being recognized for his talents,” Scott said.
Kratz, the university’s first professional athlete to win the Alumnus of the Year Award, is honored not only for his athletic talents, but for a career in which he has represented his alma mater with faith, sportsmanship, a dedicated work ethic and great class.
Traded after spring training to the San Francisco Giants and ending his season with the New York Yankees minor league affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Kratz treasures each day as an opportunity to play the game he loves and impact those around him in a positive way.
“Every day when I wake up, honoring Him is my goal,” he said in a spring 2019 interview for Crossroads. “Even if I don’t say His name, there’s something in my interactions on the field or the relationships with my teammates or the speeches I give.”
His faith, and the support of his wife Sarah Troyer Kratz ’02 and his children, helps him to make the most of the challenges of adjusting to new teammates and a new role while spending days at a time away from them.
“I am in this situation because of Him and I want that to shine through,” he said. “I have to put in the focus, dedication and time, and be diligent and trusting of Him and I’m going to give it everything I have, because I know He gave everything he had for me.”
Kratz is a 2012 EMU Hall of Honor inductee. His jersey has also been retired.