New York Yankees catcher Erik Kratz has always embraced his role as a clubhouse leader. That was never more evident than on Aug. 30 when he welcomed pitching prospect Deivi Garcia to the Yankees’ rotation with open arms — literally — in a dugout scene that had baseball fans stirring with emotions.
As Garcia prepared for his second MLB start against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, it was Kratz who got emotional during a pregame Zoom interview. When asked what it meant to him to mentor Garcia and other young pitchers who come from Latin countries, Kratz broke down.
I have talked to a lot of young Latin pitchers who have worked with Erik Kratz and so many of them praised how much he has helped them in their careers (he has even worked on his Spanish!) I asked him about it. And this happened. I'm not crying, you're crying. pic.twitter.com/FjNgM7Rbhn— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) September 4, 2020
That is what leadership looks like and sounds like.
Kratz isn’t just driven by his passion to play baseball, he’s driven by his desire to leave the game better than he found it. If that means being a mentor to a 21-year-old pitcher who left his family to pursue a dream, then the 40-year-old Kratz is willing and capable of filling that role.
As he said during his Zoom interview: “I got kids too, and I hope somebody would treat my kids that way."
‘I’m so excited to play catch with my son!’
Those were Kratz’s words as he literally ran on the field to catch Garcia’s debut against the New York Mets.
It was a moment Yankees’ fans and the organization itself had been waiting for. Garcia had long been touted as one of the baseball’s best pitching prospects. Now, his time had arrived, and no one in the ballpark — perhaps not even Garcia — was as excited as Kratz was to be part of that moment.
Moments earlier, Kratz did his best to calm whatever nerves Garcia may have been experiencing. A pregame dugout discussion culminated with a hug that resonated through the screen. It was Kratz’s way of saying you belong here, you deserve this, and if anything goes wrong, I’ve got your back.
Not surprisingly, the combination remained locked on the same page throughout Garcia’s debut. The rookie right-hander allowed one unearned run over six innings, striking out six and walking none in a game the Yankees would eventually win 5-2.
It didn’t matter that Kratz and Garcia had the largest age gap of any Yankees’ battery since 1906. It only mattered that they had established a foundation of respect and trust.
Why Erik Kratz is important to the Yankees
When Kratz was named to the Yankees opening day roster, some wondered why a 40-year-old, light-hitting catcher earned a spot over younger players with higher upside.
The answer should now be clear. While he won’t wrestle away playing time from Gary Sanchez, having Kratz around is like having an extra general. Over 11 seasons, Kratz has only appeared in 324 games. But teams — the Yankees are one of nine he’s played for — value his experience, his perspective and his willingness to take players under his wing.
Helping a young pitcher like Deivi Garcia adjust to the big leagues has value. Being a mentor has value. What Kratz contributes as a hitter — he’s hitting a solid .300/.333/.400 in 21 plate appearances this season — is essentially a bonus considering what he provides in other areas.
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