BALTIMORE — The reason 40-year-old Erik Kratz has been beloved in every one of the nine big-league clubhouses he’s been in — despite never appearing in more than 68 major league games in a given season — came into focus a few hours before the Yankees split a doubleheader with the Orioles on Friday night.
In a video that quickly went viral, Kratz, during a Zoom interview, choked up while discussing his connection with Hispanic pitchers, particularly younger ones such as the Yankees’ Deivi Garcia, 21.
“You’re probably going to get me a little emotional,” said Kratz, who became just that, even needing to pause to take a sip from a water bottle. “I love seeing what they can do. And I think sometimes some people forget where they come from.”
The moment, though portrayed in some outlets as such, was not a spontaneous utterance.
A fully bilingual reporter asked Kratz specifically about his relationship with some of the Latin pitchers he’s shared clubhouses with over the years and the borderline reverential status in which those pitchers hold him, based on what they have told the reporter.
“Some people forget that they want it just as badly, and there’s people at home that want it just as badly for them,” said Kratz, who did not play in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader but started the nightcap, catching Garcia in his second big-league start and collecting two hits and two RBIs. “They’re not around them, they’re not around their family, they’re not around the people there. Being older, hopefully I can be somebody that can step in and help that relationship and not everyone sees it.”
Kratz, unsuccessfully fighting back tears, added: “My Spanish isn’t that great, but it’s something that I try, and I want it to be good.”
He paused, laughed and grew serious again.
“Now I get to cry on Zooms, because I’ve got kids, too,” he said. “I hope somebody would treat my kids that way.”
Kratz, affectionally called “Padre” by Garcia, a native of the Dominican Republic who is considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ organization, began establishing a relationship with the pitcher last season when the pair spent time together with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It was Garcia, after allowing an unearned run in six innings in his big-league debut against the Mets Aug. 30 and getting a huge embrace in the dugout from Kratz after his outing, who disclosed the “Padre” nickname.
As he took the field for Garcia’s debut, a nearby camera caught Kratz exclaiming, “”I’m so excited to play catch with my son!”
“I found out how old he was when he got called up to Triple-A [in 2019], I did a little bit of math — I’m pretty good at math — so I figured out that, yeah, it’s possible he could have been my son,” said Kratz, who didn’t make his big-league debut until 2010, when he was 30 years old. “It wasn’t meant for TV. It was more meant for a joke that we’ve always had, but it ended up getting caught. You always be careful what you say.”
Not really. Not in this case, in which the camera simply provided a window into Kratz as a teammate.
“It’s hard to explain,” Kratz said of how meaningful it was to catch Garcia’s debut. “Being an up-and-down type of player my entire career . . . Personally, you want good stats, you want to have everything defensively, offensively, all that stuff. Ultimately, for me, the things I’ve found satisfaction and incredible gratification in is being able to make connections with players — in the minor leagues, in the big leagues, pitchers, position players, whatever it is — and hopefully go on to see them have success.
“I never caught some guys in the big leagues that I had connections with in the minor leagues, and it doesn’t mean any more or any less just because I didn’t catch their debut. [But] to then also get to catch Deivi’s debut, it just made it that more sweet.”