Life of a journeyman: Brewers catcher Erik Kratz finally has playoff shot

This time, Erik Kratz’s phone didn’t ring.

There was no summons to the manager’s office. Nor was there a wordless rebuke in the form of a trade or transaction that let Kratz know that while he’s loved and respected in a game he can’t quit, it’s never enough to keep him in one place for too long.

Instead, the July 31 and Aug. 31 trade deadlines passed and the Milwaukee Brewers added a half-dozen players to their squad: Sluggers Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop and Curtis Granderson and a trio of pitchers they hope keeps them firmly in playoff position come the end of September.

They did not add a catcher.

No, the Brewers will march toward what looks like their first playoff berth since 2011 with a timeshare of Manny Pina and Kratz behind the plate.

For Kratz, a 38-year-old who has played for 30 minor league teams, churned through 11 major league franchises, yet racked up less than five years of big league service time in 17 professional seasons, this felt something like validation.

Kratz’s story is a tale of love and perseverance and toil, yes. Its didactic value, however, comes in his ability to balance grace with gumption: How to accept getting fired, to not burn a bridge but also stand up for yourself, and flourish in the workplace when the specter of a phone call that will uproot your wife and three children can come at any hour.

“I’m not saying I play looking over my shoulder,” Kratz told USA TODAY Sports, “but at the end of the day, there’s always going to be a better catcher than me. That’s fine. If they came August 31 and picked up the greatest catcher in Major League Baseball right now, what can I do?”

That they didn’t speaks to Kratz’s continued evolution as a catcher – the career .214 hitter is even batting .255 this year – as well as his resolve.

“If you’re 38 years old and still catching, it’s almost assuredly that you’re a very good receiver of the baseball, you have a very good handle on managing a game, you take fast at knowing hitters,” says Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “And that’s the key, I think, to longevity. To continue to get better. To not close that faucet off on getting better. And Erik’s gotten better.

“That’s why he’s still in it.”

Counsell likely has no idea how many times Kratz wanted out of it.

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