"Uncle" Erik Kratz: Why America is falling in love with a .211 hitter
Let's start with the basics. Erik Kratz, a 38-year-old catcher, is in his first season with your Milwaukee Brewers. And despite earning the noble title as the oldest player on the Brewers' playoff roster, 2018 marks only the ninth big league season and the first postseason appearance of Kratz' career. For comparison, Curtis Granderson – Milwaukee's second-oldest rostered player – is in his 15th season and has collected 239 postseason plate appearances.
Kratz has also made countless stops all over the country, earning at-bats for seven different big league clubs and a whopping 30 minor league teams. (Sidebar: Can we get this man a luggage sponsorship?)
Unsurprisingly, a journeyman catcher who didn't crack the majors until his age-30 season does not stand out statistically. Of the 81 catchers who have received at least 800 plate appearances since 2010, Kratz ranks 64th in wins above replacement (1.4), 71st in OPS (.621), 73rd in batting average (.211), 74th in walk rate (5.0 percent) and 76th in hits (170). The list goes on and on. He has provided solid defense throughout his career, though nothing extraordinary that explains away his lackluster offensive marks.
Kratz should be a totally forgettable player. Yet he has managed to hang around the sport for nearly two decades and has now landed a featured October role on the hottest team in baseball, while becoming a fan favorite in the process.
So what's the explanation for all the Kratz love?
The K stands for Klutch
Rooting for the baseball underdog is much easier when said underdog is actually performing well on the diamond. After sitting out the first game of the NLDS, Kratz turned in two crucial performances at the plate in Games 2 and 3, combining for a 5-9 batting line with a run, a double and two RBIs. His broken bat single with the bases loaded in the eighth inning broke Game 2 wide open for Milwaukee, and his opposite-field double in the sixth inning of Game 3 will go down as a defining highlight in one of the franchise's most memorable weekends.
Every great postseason run needs an unlikely hero. The 2004 Red Sox had Dave Roberts. The 2011 Cardinals had David Freese. (Sorry, Crew fans.) Heck, current manager Craig Counsell even played the part for the 2001 Diamondbacks. The 2018 Brewers are loaded with star power and solid vets, but an unpredictably wonderful October from Kratz could propel Milwaukee towards history.
Don't overthink it – slow guys are funny!
As long as they aren't bouncing into double plays in critical moments (which Kratz has admittedly already done once in these playoffs), watching some combination of the old/fat/slow guy try his hand on the base paths is always amusing.
Kratz isn't fat, but he certainly isn't svelte either, and at 6-foot-4, 250 lbs, it's basically like watching a 38-year-old refrigerator make the turn around first base. As a fan, whenever a player like that looks to take an extra base, you are never quite sure if sending him was the prudent baseball move ... but dang it, if you don't want to watch him try every single time.
And to top it all off, if the opposing team does in fact make it a close play at the base, nearly anything can happen when Kratz (or a player of his stature) is forced to go into an aggressive slide. We saw this firsthand in Game 3 when Carlos Gonzalez threw a strike from the right field corner towards second base, forcing the Brewers' backstop to sort of flop onto the bag, grasping for anything he could get his paws on in a desperate attempt to slow his momentum.
That play quickly becomes much less enjoyable if Kratz is thrown out or is trying to take the extra base in a critical, late-game situation. But with the Brewers ripping through the National League right now, and all of Counsell's decisions coming up roses, pressing one's luck with more Kratz seems like the way to go. Give him the green light on the base paths, let him swing away in a three-ball count or put him in centerfield. All I know is, "I gotta have more Kratzy!"
The 2018 Good Guy Award goes to …
The overachieving underdog is one thing, but when the underdog also turns out to be world's classiest human? That's a story that can unite everyone – casual and hardcore fans alike – especially here in America's Dairyland.
In the NLDS alone, Kratz has provided joy to the baseball world with his easygoing personality, from his overly polite exchange with the home plate umpire at the end of Game 3 to his own jokes after stumbling into second base for a double. But his most endearing moment came after the series win in his postgame interview on MLB Network.
The Erik Kratz story is incredible! He is proof to never give up on your dreams 🙏 pic.twitter.com/xJmRSWk3LC— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) October 8, 2018
Kratz is a self-deprecating, down-to-earth family man who takes nothing for granted and lives life "day by day." His personality and perseverance is what we should all strive for in our own lives, which is why it is so easy to root for the man who still exudes those traits after a career night on the sport's biggest stage. Who knows how long Kratz's hot streak will last this month, but he has already cemented his legacy on and off the field.
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