It’s a name that is familiar to fans of the Phillies and IronPigs. Erik Kratz, the hard-nosed, reliable catcher who is a native of Telford, returned to Coca-Cola Park this weekend with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The IronPigs on Saturday night earned their second straight win over the RailRiders, prevailing 12-3.
Kratz went 1-for-4 with a line-drive double and run scored in Friday night’s game and threw out a runner – from his knees – attempting to steal second base. He was not in the RailRiders’ lineup on Saturday evening.
Kratz, who debuted in the big leagues in 2010 for the Pirates, played the 2011 season in Triple-A with the IronPigs. He batted .288 and hit 15 home runs in 103 games.
Kratz spent parts of the 2011, ’12 and ’15 seasons in Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.
“Playing for the IronPigs in 2011 was an incredible season. Some of the wives still keep in touch, a lot of the guys stay in touch. It was a bunch of older guys with experience and the younger guys. There’ve been times when there are older guys on teams and they kind of begrudgingly go through the season. That’s not how that group was. Guys wanted to be in the big leagues but they understood we were going to have fun.
“From a fans’ standpoint, I played the previous two years at Indianapolis and they draw nice crowds. But it’s nothing like here. Growing up in this area, that was a huge thing. Not that you change how you play but you get what they want as far as effort. I understand that and it shines through here in the Lehigh Valley, just like it does in Philadelphia.”
Kratz played in 67 regular-season games for the Brewers last year. After a May trade from the Yankees to Milwaukee, he batted .236 with six homers and 23 RBIs in a career-high 219 plate appearances.
It was in the postseason that Kratz made his mark. He went 5-for-7 with two RBIs in the NLDS against the Rockies, including a three-hit performance in the Game 3 clincher. Kratz was the oldest player to make his postseason debut since Lave Cross of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1905.
“It wasn’t just a couple weeks there. It was a couple weeks on national TV and that’s when people were like, ‘Oh yeah, I kind of remember that guy.’ But it was a whole season of being there from May to the end. As far as the national media exposure, I’m actually finding out more about it this season than I actually knew about it last year.
“It was just, hey, you have 260 messages on your phone because everyone saw that game. So, yeah, that was different. Since then I’ve heard from a lot of people who were happy for me. I really enjoyed the run and we came close to going to the World Series.”
Kratz is with his third organization this season. He started the year with the Giants, then was traded to Tampa Bay before being given his release, then signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees. He has a .102 batting average in 49 major-league at-bats this year.
The Christopher Dock High School (Now Dock Mennonite Academy) and Eastern Mennonite College graduate recently bought a house close to his hometown of Telford. Kratz and his wife, Sarah, have three children — sons Brayden, 12; and Ethan, 10; and daughter, Avery, 6.
“The end’s been coming for a while. I said it last year, I’ve played my last game for 12 years. Baseball doesn’t owe me, or anyone, anything. But it doesn’t make me work any less hard. It probably makes me work harder knowing the end is coming. I take it day by day, week by week and month by month.
“My wife and family are the most important thing to me. So they dictate a lot of the decisions I make for my career. We enjoy this area, we always have. There’s nostalgia here for me but family and friends are the big thing. I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m out of the game. There are people who are like, when I’m done this is what I’m going to do. There are a lot of things I’d like to do but it’s kind of arrogant to be like, ‘I’m going to go do this.’ If I’m going to go clean trash cans, well someone right now is cleaning trash cans. You can’t just say I’m going to have that job.”
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Michael Blouse is a freelance writer.