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Memorable callup to Bucs for emotional Kratz

Memorable callup to Bucs for emotional Kratz

Wednesday's Triple-A All-Star Game gave catcher Erik Kratz a Major League surprise -- and a memory for a lifetime.

Kratz, who has toiled in the Minor Leagues for nine seasons, was representing the Pittsburgh Pirates' affiliate in his second straight Triple-A All-Star Game in Allentown, Pa., when a magical phone call came. At the age of 30, he had finally made it to the big leagues.

Kratz, who was 0-for-1 in the game, was in the dugout, slated to play one more inning. That's when his manager at Indianapolis and coach in the game, Frank Kemblas, approached him.

"First of all, I didn't want to come out of the game," Kratz told MLB Network's Mitch Williams from the dugout shortly after receiving the news. "I was like, 'Well, I've got one more inning, maybe one more at-bat ... see if I can get a hold of one or something."

Kemblas, in classic baseball prankster form, posed a simple question.

"He was like, 'You only had one more inning anyways,'" Kratz said. "'Would you rather go to the big leagues or go back into the game?'"

Was it a difficult reply for Kratz?

"Not a tough answer," the catcher said with a smile and a trembling voice. "No, it's not."

Kratz, who grew up in Telford, Pa., about 45 minutes from Allentown, and was playing in front of family and friends, had trouble describing his feelings in the wake of this monumental achievement.

"I don't know what to say," he said. "It means the world to me and my family."

Kratz quickly became overcome with emotion during the interview and began tearing up. Williams wisely cut the talk short, urging Kratz to go into the stands and spring the news on his wife, Sarah.

It's been a long and dramatic journey for Kratz, who was one of the Pirates' final cuts of Spring Training this year, losing the backup catcher job to Jason Jaramillo with a few days left in camp in Lakeland, Fla. -- mostly because Jaramillo was on the 40-man roster and Kratz was a non-roster invitee.

But the Pirates on Monday optioned Jaramillo -- who was hitting .164 in 24 games for the Pirates this year -- to Indianapolis, clearing the way for Kratz to realize his lifelong goal.

"I love playing baseball," Kratz told MLB.com during Spring Training. "It's a generic, corny answer, but I really do. And that's what kept me going."

When he said "kept me going," he was referring to hardships that blue-chip big leaguers never experience.

Kratz recalled at least three times that he considered quitting baseball, he described a full season (2004) in which he was never really hurt but had several injuries attached to his name. He also was talking about the offseason construction job he works to support Sarah and their two children.

"You sit there and you put all the work in and sometimes you question why," Kratz told MLB.com in March.

"You put the work in and at the end of the day, if you don't measure up or you fall short of where you want to get to, you've put in what you could. That's where I was in my career. That was pretty much all that was pushing me."

Kratz, a Pennsylvania native, was originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft after setting the Division III record for career doubles while starring at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Prior to 2009, he had played more than 83 games in a season only once, in 2005.

But Kratz was needed when Indianapolis needed him as its primary catcher last season once Robinzon Diaz took Ryan Doumit's spot on Pittsburgh's 25-man Major League roster for the first half of the season. By the end of the year, Kratz had a career-high 93 games and 319 at-bats and hit .273 with 41 extra-base hits and 43 RBIs. He earned mid-season and postseason International League All-Star honors plus last year's Triple-A All-Star Game MVP award.

This year, he was batting .296 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 56 games for Indianapolis.

"You always respect the guys that play hard year in and year out, and sometimes all it takes is an opportunity," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told MLB.com during Spring Training.

"With a guy like Erik, he goes about it the right way. He runs the pitching staff. He receives well. And he can run into a ball and hit it into the seats. Those guys are all valuable."

Now Kratz will get his chance to show his value at the highest level of baseball -- the show he's been working toward for close to a decade.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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