KANSAS CITY – Erik Kratz had some quiet, lonely trips up and down the Queen Elizabeth Way this season. He rode the Buffalo-to-Toronto shuttle four times, going from the Bisons to the Blue Jays. Then came a relatively nondescript trade in July: Kratz and Buffalo ace Liam Hendriks to Kansas City for infielder Danny Valencia.
All of a sudden, Kratz is in the World Series as the Royals’ backup catcher.
“I was in Buffalo three months ago. It’s really surreal,” Kratz said prior to Game One in Kauffman Stadium. “After it’s over, I’ll be able to look back on it. I’m just trying to soak it all in. My first thought when I found out about the trade was, ‘I’m going to get to go to the big leagues.’ Nothing wrong with Buffalo at all. It’s just you’d rather be in the big leagues.
“The team was pretty much in the same spot. It was a lateral move in the standings at the time as far as Blue Jays to here. But once I got here and saw how the guys really brought me on board, it became an awesome place to play.”
Kratz, 29, batted .299 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 27 games for the Bisons and caught Marcus Stroman’s six no-hit innings on April 29 against Louisville in Coca-Cola Field. His numbers were .198-3-10 in 34 games for Toronto and .276-2-3 in 13 games for the Royals, spending most of his time as Salvador Perez’s backup.
“It really is a ride. It’s not necessarily momentum, but it’s more an opportunity to learn what each of us as players can do in tighter situations, in pressure-packed spots,” Kratz said. “That’s what the wild-card game did for us, gave us an opportunity to be successful. People see big-time trades like David Price and Jon Lester. But they traded here for pieces to fill in, guys to mix with the guys they already had.”
Kratz said he’s been particularly fascinated to watch Perez, an all-star who has dramatically increased his national profile with his big plays during this postseason.
“I got to be the backup to Carlos Ruiz and interact with him every day when I was with the Phillies, so I have more appreciation for what he does now,” Kratz said. “But seeing Salvy? I forget that he’s 24 years old. He’s a leader on the field. He’s incredibly gifted for what he can do at his age. I want to stick around and see what he can do longer.
“I’m not going to say somebody is going to be a Hall of Famer or anything close. But if he was doing what he’s doing at 30, it would be impressive. And he’s 24 and leading a team to the World Series.”
When he got to spring training, Kratz thought it was possible he would be here – with the Blue Jays.
“We had a team over there that felt we could have done this and we had a good run early,” he said. “When I was up there, we were always winning. When I was down in Buffalo, they struggled. It wasn’t me. But it just worked out I wasn’t there through their stretches of losing. The talent on that team was there to be in this same spot.”
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Quirky Giants outfielder Hunter Pence has a big bat, as he showed with his first-inning home run in Game One. And he’s a social media phenomenon on Twitter if you search #HunterPencesigns. Fans routinely hold up bizarre signs in ballparks about all the things Pence allegedly likes or thinks.
“I enjoy it. Absolutely,” Pence said. “There’s a lot of favorite ones. One of my favorites when we were here in August was ‘Hunter Pence thinks we’re in Kansas.’ Once I read the sign, I figured I guess I’m not in Kansas and we must have been in Missouri. ... I had no idea anything like that would happen but I’ve enjoyed it. There’s a lot of good humor out there.”
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The third-base umpire Tuesday was veteran Ted Barrett, who was born in Washington State but split his time growing up between North Tonawanda and California. Barrett, 49, became a big-league umpire in 1999 and a crew chief last season. This is his third World Series.
Barrett, who lives in Arizona, also worked the Boston-Colorado matchup in 2007 and the St. Louis-Texas seven-gamer in 2011. This is his 19th postseason assignment and he was the crew chief for the Royals’ division series win over the Los Angeles Angels. Barrett is the only umpire in history to work behind the plate in two perfect games (David Cone in 1999 and Matt Cain in 2012), and also had the plate for Greg Maddux 300th win in 2004.
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A couple hundred reporters are being housed for the series in a glass-enclosed restaurant in left field that’s been converted into an auxiliary press box to handle the crush of media that regularly covers the event. The space is called The .390 Bar & Grill and is named after Hall of Famer George Brett’s batting average in 1980, the year he was over .400 in mid-August. ... The Royals decided to keep their roster the same as it was for the ALCS, meaning veteran Raul Ibanez is inactive for the World Series. The Royals thus become the first team to play in a Series without a single player to have appeared in a game in the 20th Century. ... This is a World Series featuring two wild-cards for just the second time and the Giants have been in both of them, losing their seven-game classic to the then-Anaheim Angels in 2002.