Erik Kratz has seen a lot during a professional baseball career that began as a member of the Pioneer League’s Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 2002. But the Yankees’ 40-year-old backup catcher apparently never has seen anything quite like the team’s alternate site training camp in Moosic, Pennsylvania.
“We call ourselves the JV team, or Field 2, whichever you want to go with. But I really think it’s something that’s never been done before,” Kratz said.
First, a little background: all 30 teams have about 25 players stashed at a site other than their home city. The Mets have their squad at MCU Park in Brooklyn, which during a normal minor-league season would be the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Marcus Stroman was supposed to throw a simulated game there on Tuesday, for example, before he decided to opt out of the rest of the season.
The Yankees’ alternate site is PNC Field, the home of their Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Triple-A affiliate.
The alternate sites exist to provide backup players for the major-league rosters should someone get injured or have to be sidelined because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The alternate site players do not mingle with the alternate site players from other organizations. So it’s basically about 25 players going through drills and playing intrasquad games and doing whatever they can to stay ready . . . while also doing whatever they can to follow protocols so they don’t became infected with the virus.
“I think it’s easier for a catcher because you’ve got a lot of pitchers — they’ve got to throw down there,” Kratz said. “I think it might be a little bit more difficult for other guys. Just getting your at-bats and trying to stay mentally locked in to those intrasquad games that we have down there and try and get the most out of it.”
Kratz, who was called up to the Yankees on Saturday to back up Gary Sanchez after the team placed Kyle Higashioka on the injured list, lives about 90 miles from Scranton, so he was commuting during his time there. The rest of the players are staying in hotels, he said.
“It’s a lot like your normal day leading up to a game,” Kratz said of the alternate site. “We go through our defensive work. We go through BP, get your work in the cage, your workouts. And then we have an intrasquad [game]. Some days we have five innings of work, some days we have two innings of work, some days we have four [pitchers] scheduled and only two throw. It’s extremely organized, but we just kind of go by what’s happening. There’s different innings, we try to put defensive players out there in the field, but I think we only had like eight position players, so it’s a little difficult to have people hit and play the field. I’ve told so many people that the guys down there have done such an incredible job, from the coaches preparing us, and also the players really taking it seriously.”
At the time he was called up, Kratz had left the alternate site and already was with the Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida, as part of the five-man taxi squad teams have with them when they are on the road. Before that — after Summer Camp at Yankee Stadium ended — he was in Scranton.
“[The games] have gone more intense as we’ve gone because you’re facing the same guys over and over again,” Kratz said. “You embarrass the pitcher one day and then he embarrasses you three times the next time he’s out there. So it’s something that the competitive spirit in us — knowing this is the only way to stay ready — is what keeps us going. I think it’s exciting.”
On Tuesday, Mets reliever Brad Brach was activated from the COVID-19 injured list after completing a stay at the Mets’ alternate site.
“It’s different. Just playing for, what, 10 or 11 years like I have, it’s a totally different situation,” Brach said. “I think the most bummed out part was I just wasn’t around the team. I was a part of everything, but I felt disconnected. So for me, that was the toughest thing, to go there on a daily basis and have a goal and have a personal agenda, but at the same time know that it’s going to take a little bit of time and it’s not just going to come back overnight. It’s different not having fans, but it’s also different when you’re out there and there’s not a full nine guys behind you and not a full other team in the dugout. As much adrenaline as you get from that normal competition, it wasn’t there. When you’re playing games at all different times of day — on Sunday it was at 10 a.m. — it’s also a little bit different.”
One aspect of the alternate site that also is different is no media are allowed. That’s why Yankees fans were grateful recently when closer Aroldis Chapman — who is working out at Scranton after testing positive for COVID-19 before the season — posted a video of himself throwing a bullpen session on his Instagram account. Something for Yankees fans to look at . . . and look forward to.
— With Tim Healey