While I’m at it, I wanted to put up an article I wrote last semester about Erik Kratz. After just getting out of FCA that had Erik as our speaker, it reminded me why I wrote the article in the first place. Erik is a stand up guy and a role model for a kid like me trying to achieve a dream. I told him I’d put it online so he could read it and have been slacking so here is my lengthy article titled “The House That Kratz Built”
The House that Kratz Built
As EMU’s most prolific baseball player shows up to the field on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the crowd on the hill immediately takes notice. Fans instantly perk up, the players rise to their feet wondering if it’s really him, the Alumni shake his hand. He stands in contrast to the current player’s on the opposite side of the field. The wide-eye 20 something year old kids stare at the current professional player who set the record book for EMU baseball. It’s Homecoming week at EMU and the baseball team is playing a game against former players. There’s no mistaking perhaps the most revered Alumni from the baseball team as he walks through the gate. Erik Kratz has returned.
Kratz’s journey began at EMU when he didn’t get much interest from other colleges out of high school. He attended Christopher Dock in Pennsylvania and was part of a Mennonite Church there. He received interest from a junior college near his home and was close to going there until a prayer one night changed his decision.
“The night before I was going to decide to go somewhere else, I prayed. I woke up the next morning and said hey, I’m going to go to EMU. The coach at EMU said I would get playing time right away and the coach at the junior college said I wasn’t good enough and I was used to playing so that went into it as well. I was also from a Mennonite school and that had ties with EMU,” said Kratz.
Rob Roeschley, EMU’s head coach at the time, had just graduated three catchers and needed someone to step into the role. Kratz was welcomed with open arms.
At the field where he honed his now developed skills, Kratz warms up before the game in the outfield with a former teammate as he shows off the arm strength that has helped him make his appearances in the Major Leagues. He gets loose and then jokes around with his alumni teammates before the game, all while commanding the eyes of the many spectators. The current EMU team stands around him as he gets into his crouch behind home plate while he warms up. Players nudge each other after each throw he makes as if to say, “did you see that?”.
For Kratz at EMU, he didn’t need much warm up though. He caught every pitch during his time at EMU.
“That was great.” Kratz says. “I came in at EMU and our other catcher was needed at other positions. By the time I got to senior year, I just decided, I haven’t missed [a game] yet, I don’t want to.”
During his sophomore year, that streak came into jeopardy.
“I had been playing floor football with my hall on a Saturday and we had just finished fall ball. I tore my PCL and at that point I thought that was it for baseball,” Erik said.
He came back healthy in the fall and was in for every inning that year, a testament to his work ethic.
His other most trying time? “Economics,” Kratz said.
As the game gets ready to start and the alumni lineup is announced, Kratz has his name called. It’s a big difference from the minor league stadiums that he is used to playing in but he is recieved with as much enthusiasm, though Kratz is quick to shy away from the spotlight.
“Erik is a very humble guy. He doesn’t like all the attention to be on him. He doesn’t expect any special treatment and he’s just out playing the game he loves” said current head coach and former teammate Jason Stuhlmiller.
As the game moves on, Kratz shows off most of the tools that got him where he is today. He throws out the two runners that try to steal on him by enough that when they head back to the dugout, their teammates laugh. He gets one hit and then shows off his power with another deep fly ball in the next at bat. These tools were on full display back when he was in an EMU uniform himself.
As a senior, Kratz was named the ODAC Player of the Year and an All-American. His mark on EMU’s record book was a flat out assault. He set school records for everything from games played, to home runs, to batting average. Up until this past year, he also held the NCAA record for career doubles.
His senior year was also the time period for one of his most rewarding and memorable days on the baseball field. Going into the last series of the season and needing to get two wins against Lynchburg, Kratz had a remarkable day. He homered in the first game to give his team the win. Then, going into the second game which was a must win, he hit another home run and accounted for both of the runs EMU scored in a 2-0 win to help them reach the tournament.
“I’ve had a couple very rewarding experiences on the baseball field. I was named MVP on ESPN and played in All-Star games but when I think first of what was the most memorable day, it has to be that day against Lynchburg,” said Kratz.
He set his sites on the MLB draft next. No other player from EMU had been drafted but Kratz was garnering the attention that had him hoping he would become the first.
“If I had been drafted after my junior year I would have signed. I could have gone to pro ball a year younger and always come back and gotten my education,” he said.
As Kratz sits behind the plate, he jokes with every player that comes up to the plate. It’s easy to tell that he is most at home on the baseball field. He talks in Spanish with the Hispanic players on the current team and asks other players if they’re nervous or having fun. As Jonathon Estrada yells out to Christian Rodriguez in Spanish to steal second base, Kratz calls back in perfect Spanish that it’s probably not a good idea. The players crack up in the dugout and everyone is having a good time just being around Erik.
The summer after his senior year Kratz waited for a call during the MLB draft.
“I was hoping to be drafted. I remember I was at EMU on the second day of the draft and went to my friend’s office and we were watching the live feed of the draft. They were calling out the player’s names so fast and I didn’t know if I would hear my name. Then in slow motion I heard them call out my name. It was awesome. It made me feel like all of my work had been worth it,” said Erik.
On this day, there are no drafts to worry about. The grind of a full season is behind him. The most pressure he faces comes from a curveball that nearly hits him in the head. His professional season is over and now he’s just enjoying a day at the park. He’s enjoying a day back on the field where he forged his legacy. It’s not another day at the office, Erik Kratz is back home.
“It was awesome being back for the Alumni game. You spend all season playing on these fields at a higher level and then come back and it’s like, ‘I played here?’. It wasn’t that long ago but it seems like it. It was a blast,” said Kratz.
As the day wraps up and the game comes to an end, the score doesn’t matter. Both teams are joking and sharing laughs and it’s an experience that most of the current EMU team will remember. The simple fact that Erik is at the game meant quite a bit to the people involved in the game.
“It was a great experience to see a professional athlete come back to his roots where it all started and share his experience, knowledge, and an overall love for the game,” said Sophomore baseball player Ryan McAlister.
The players from both teams gather together behind home plate after they finish up. They have a word of prayer and then most are on their way out. Not Erik. It seems like every player, fan, and coach wants to have a word with him. The players get to him first, shaking his hand and thanking him. Then the coaches. Finally, as Erik tries to leave the field, the fans, his fans, come up to him. They ask for pictures or autographs or just a chance to talk to him. He obliges, taking time to talk to everyone who approaches him. Yankee Stadium may have been called “The House that Ruth Built” because of the love and adoration Babe Ruth received from the fans and for the records he set there. EMU has “The House that Kratz Built.”