Erik Kratz made his postseason debut Oct. 5, when Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell put the 38-year-old catcher in the starting lineup for Game 2 against the Colorado Rockies in the National League division series.
The decision made Kratz the oldest position player to start in his postseason debut, according to the Associated Press, since the Philadelphia Athletics' Lave Cross in the 1905 World Series.
"Lave Cross from Milwaukee, yeah, he was a really good third baseman," Kratz kidded with the AP. "We played together in rookie ball."
The Telford, Pa., native was drafted in 2002, made his MLB debut eight years later, has spent time in 11 systems, had just two hits last season, and considered leaving baseball 14 years ago, when, according to USA Today, he was 24 and celebrating his birthday with his father at an Applebee's in Auburn, N.Y.
Now, the backup catcher has become the toast of the MLB playoffs, turning in a spectacular performance in the Brewers' sweep of the Rockies and setting up an exciting NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, beginning tonight at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
How did the journeyman — in every sense of the word — make it happen? Determination.
"If you told me 16 years ago that I'd be here today, I wouldn't have changed the path that I took," Kratz told MLB.com. "I never gave up. I've been blessed every day to be in this situation."
Kratz went 5-for-8 at the plate in the NLDS, and his two-run single in the eighth helped break open Game 2 en route to a 4-0 win.
Two days later, Kratz's three hits in Game 3 helped the Brewers move on in their first playoff appearance since 2011. His teammates showered him in champagne after the sweep, chanting "MVP!" as they celebrated in the Coors Field clubhouse.
Kratz, a Christopher Dock Mennonite grad who grew up less than an hour from Citizens Bank Park in a town that straddles Bucks and Montgomery Counties, was signed by the Phillies in November 2010, months after he finally made his MLB debut with the Pirates after spending six years in the Blue Jays system.
He appeared in just two big-league games (six at-bats, two hits, no runs) in 2011, the year the Phillies won the NL East and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Cardinals. He saw time in 50 games in 2012, hitting .266 during a year in which the Phils finished 81-81 and missed the playoffs.
The only time he's opened the season on a major-league roster? It was 2013, also with the Phillies, when he joined Humberto Quintero as one of two catchers taking the place of Carlos Ruiz, who was serving a 25-game suspension. He spent the whole year with the major-league club. His family — he and his wife Sarah have three children — was finally able to be in one place.
That December, the Phillies traded him back to the Blue Jays.
A glance at Kratz's postseason history is brief: eight at-bats, all coming within the last week. He was with the Royals when they made it to the 2014 World Series — the kids loved the perks, like Chick-Fil-A on the charter plane after games, USA Today reported — but Kratz never saw any action. The next year, he began the season with the Royals but played in just five games before being released. (He was selected off waivers by the Red Sox on June 21, and was a free agent by June 29.)
In May, Kratz was traded from the Yankees (his ninth system in three years) to the Brewers. He averaged .236 with 48 hits (six home runs) in 67 games, primarily backing up starting catcher Manny Pina (himself a journeyman) as Pina worked through injuries.
On Oct. 5, Counsell gave Kratz the start. He batted eighth, hitting a single his first time up before flying out in the fourth inning and striking out in the seventh.
And then, with the Brewers clinging to a two-run lead with two outs and Ryan Braun, Orlando Arcia and Mike Moustakas on base, Kratz stepped up to the plate.
He swung at a cutter thrown by Chris Russin and missed. He watched a changeup sail by for a ball.
And then he took his shot. He swung at a pitch high and inside, and watched as the ball sailed above third base and landed in front of the Rockies left fielder for the biggest hit of his life.
"Yeah, it's the biggest hit," he told USA Today. "Just like the strikeout the time before was the biggest strikeout of my career. That's what this moment is. It's something that is – I feel like it's an incredible opportunity to be here."
Game 1: Dodgers at Brewers, 8:09 p.m. Friday, FS1
Game 2: Dodgers at Brewers, 4:09 p.m. Saturday, Fox
Game 3: Brewers at Dodgers, 7:39 p.m., Monday, FS1
Game 4: Brewers at Dodgers, 9:09 p.m., Tuesday, FS1
Game 5 (if nec.): Brewers at Dodgers, 5:05 p.m., Wednesday, FS1
Game 6 (if nec.): Dodgers at Brewers, 8:39 p.m. Oct. 19, FS1