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Nomadic career helps put Erik Kratz into the MLB record books

Baseball statistics run deep, but the one listed in the bio for Buffalo Bisons catcher Erik Kratz is, well, eye catching.

This year Kratz appeared as both a pitcher and catcher for two different Major League teams, Houston and Pittsburgh. He was the first player to do that, pitch and catch for two different teams in the same season, since 1879.

Yep, you read that year correctly -- 1879.

It's an interesting piece of history and perhaps the best example of the nomadic nature of Kratz's baseball career the last two years. The Bisons are the ninth team the 36-year-old Kratz has played for in the last two seasons giving the term "baseball grind" a new twist.

"For me, baseball’s baseball. There’s going to be ups and downs in baseball and if you have success you probably don’t move as much. When you don’t do as well, you move a little more," Kratz said. "But for me, my family, that’s the hard part.

"You get used to it. I’m still playing baseball. It’s hard on my wife and it’s hard on me being away from my family. Once you get to the field, it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. I enjoy being at the field. I really do. I enjoy the guys. It’s something that gives me energy. You can either sit here and be negative about it or you can be positive and enjoy your time."

Just reading through his transaction history causes fatigue.

In 2015 he began the season with Kansas City. After a stint on the disabled list he was designated for assignment and claimed off waviers by Boston, but Kratz refused the minor league assignment and declared himself a free agent. He signed a minor league deal with Seattle and played for Triple-A Tacoma until he was released. Philadelphia signed him to a minor league deal and he played with Lehigh Valley before having is contract purchased by the Phillies, playing in 12 big league games to close out the season.

Take a breather, grab some Gatorade, because there are four organizations to go through for 2016.

He started this season with Houston and was released by the Astros in March. He signed with the Los Angels Angeles and played with Triple-A Salt Lake before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in June. He again declared free agency instead of accepting a minor league assignment from the Pirates and signed a minor league deal with Toronto on July 29. Kratz has been in Buffalo ever since.

Ah, but before he arrived in Buffalo, he made that bit of Major League history.

His first trip to the mound came April 26 for the Astrons in an 11-1 loss at Seattle. He pitched the eighth giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits. Then on June 21 he pitched the ninth for Pittsburgh in a 15-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants, giving up two hits but earning one very satisfying strike out of Brandon Belt.

"Both situations were a little different," Kratz said. "The time I did it in Seattle with the Astros it was, well we’re losing, it was more go out there, do your job, get it done. The time in Pittsburgh I felt I enjoyed it more because I realized some of the things I missed from the first opportunity. I got to enjoy it a little more. But you still want to be professional about it because a lot of pitchers went out before me and didn’t have a great night, so if I’m out there joking around," he trailed off before adding "and I like to win. When I’m out there pitching it means we’re not winning."

When he stepped on the mound, he tried to follow his own advice - the things he tells his pitchers when he's directing them from behind the plate.

"I always tell pitchers they make the game too hard," Kratz said. "Like they think hitters are going to hit every pitch that’s thrown remotely close to the plate. I think I took what I know from behind the plate into pitching. If I could execute it, great. If I didn’t, they probably would get a hit. But I was able to execute it and I was able to have decent success out there for it."

His two spot pitching outings aside, Kratz again declared free agency and decided to sign with the Blue Jays because of familiarity with the organization. He was drafted by Toronto in 2002 and spent his first six seasons in the Blue Jays system and returned for 2014, which included 27 games with the Bisons. He also signed with Toronto because in late July it looked promising for Kratz to earn a 40-man roster spot and a September call-up. Since then, the Jays signed catcher Dioner Navarro and Kratz will likely be the odd-man out.

With the Bisons, he's been in 15 games as the backup catcher to A.J. Jimenez, hitting .178 (8 for 45), but Kratz works with the pitching staff continuously and this group has made his job fun.

"I’m super impressed with these guys," Kratz said of the Bisons pitching staff. "Their ability not only to throw strikes and stay away from free runs. I hate walks. As a catcher I hate walks. And I’ve seen these guys go through some spells where they’re not throwing strikes, but they’re not walking guys. I think that is a testament to their confidence in their ability.

"They really do a great job of continually attacking hitters and that’s fun for me as a catcher. You can deal with mistakes, you can deal with that kind of stuff. Guys that don’t have confidence to attack hitters, you can’t really deal with that too much. These guys, all of them, from the last guy in the bullpen to the first starter in the game, they’re attacking hitters and that’s fun to catch."

 

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