Sam Donnellon: Kratz living out his long-imagined big-league dream

Phillies Erik Kratz got the phillies off to the comeback with his 2 run HR in the 8th. Philadelphia Phillies vs MIlwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at Citizens Bank Park. ( RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ).
Phillies Erik Kratz got the phillies off to the comeback with his 2 run HR in the 8th. Philadelphia Phillies vs MIlwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at Citizens Bank Park. ( RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ).
Posted: July 27, 2012

ERIK KRATZ stood at his locker and absorbed it all once again. The bigness of the crowd, the bigness of the game, the bigness of his 3-hit day in yet another last at-bat victory for the big-league club. For a 32-year-old guy who has kicked around the minor leagues for more than a decade, who was driving a 1988 Dodge D50 until it finally gasped its last breath just a few weeks ago, it all seemed so out-of-body. Pinch-run for Ryan Howard and score the winning run Monday? Who would have thought? Ignite the six-run eighth Tuesday with a two-run home run? Rip a pair of doubles subbing for the Phillies' best hitter, the second to set up the winning rally on Wednesday?

How many times did he read Chris Coste's book, precisely?

And then reality set in. Actually it whizzed by. It was hard to tell whether 5-year-old Braydon Kratz was chasing 3-year-old Ethan Kratz around the Phillies locker room, just as it was hard to tell which one Cliff Lee had playfully placed upside down in a locker stall moments before.

"They get to go to the Triple A clubhouse a lot," Kratz said as he vainly tried to rein them in. "In the Triple A locker room, we have video games.

“Here, they get snacks."

Apparently, snacks with sugar, judging the energy level exuded after a long, hot day watching Daddy live out the dream of every career minor leaguer, and live out a dream he first conjured when he was slightly older than his two boys are now. Kratz says he went to Phillies games a lot growing up in Telford, Pa. Like many in the stands right now, he grew up talking the game with his dad, thinking about what he would do in situations not unlike the ones he has found himself in this week.

Thinking about what it must be like to be out there and looking up here.

Now he knows.

"It's awesome," he said. "I don't have a lot of words to describe it. If I go deeper into it, to know I was a fan and used to cheer from the stands at the Vet. It's definitely something I will look back on, but for now it's just fun being a part of it.

“I prepare every day to try and be ready for when the time comes. To say I was prepared to pinch-run the other day? I knew we needed somebody. I was hoping that somebody would be conjured up from somewhere to pinch-run. But, seriously, I'm trying every day to stay ready. And you ask anybody who doesn't play every day, they'll tell you that's tough. But I've told Charlie [Manuel], ‘If you need me, I'm ready. Don't be afraid to put me in the game, because I'm going to prepare as if I'm going to be in the game.'

“The worst thing that can happen is that I don't get in the game, and I'm that much more ready for the next game."

Ah, but how many next games are there? Brian Schneider, the injured Phillies backup whose place Kratz took in late June, has begun his rehab assignment. Kratz is 6-for-16 (.375) with two doubles and three home runs this season, providing an unexpected righthanded power option for pinch-hitting duties, at least in the short run. But the 766 games he has played in the minors — compared with only 11 in the majors before this year — hang around his neck like an anvil, just as they once did for Coste.

"He had a great career," Kratz said. "One of those things where he never got the opportunity before he was 33. I'm a big-league vet 'cause I'm here at 32, right?"

He smiled. "No, let's just call it prospect status."

He's easy to like and even easier to live vicariously through. If you measure Cole Hamels' new salary pitch by pitch, he will earn more in an inning of work than Kratz ever has in one single season, and the same can be said about the other two studs of the staff. This makes Kratz' trips to the mound a fiduciary absurdity, if baseball players thought that way. Luckily for all of us, most don't.

"I've always said, and my dad always keeps telling me, every time you get to put on a big-league uniform, it's an honor," he said. "It's pretty special being in a locker room like this."

For as long as it lasts. Kratz insists that he's not thinking that way, that any ballplayer worth his salt thinks not of inevitability but of opportunity. Wasn't Coste optioned back to the minors once despite a similar run? Didn't he eventually stick?

"You can always say, ‘Look at this guy or that guy,'?'' Kratz said. “ ‘He's here and I'm in the minor leagues.' But you know what? You put a uniform on, you've got a shot. You've got a shot?…?I'm not here to just play and say, ‘Oh, awesome, I'm at the big leagues.' I like playing. And anytime you put that uniform on, it's a chance to do well."   

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