“I am an imperfect sinner,” comments Milwaukee Brewers catcher, Erik Kratz, “however salvation was made possible when Jesus died on the cross many years ago. The thought of Jesus on the cross is very humbling. Eternal life with the Lord cannot be earned, but it is a gift given by the grace of God through Christ. When I get all ‘high and mighty’ on myself, the thought of the cross humbles me. The cross is not something I think about every day, but I should.”
Kratz finds his daily Bible devotionals encourage and strengthen his resolve to make the most of each day in the way he lives. “When I am in God’s Word each morning, there are so many ways the Bible passages are interjected into my life. It is all based on what Jesus Christ has done for me. Jesus was nailed to the cross, giving His life to cover my sins to give me an opportunity to spend eternity with His Father. This is the central focus of everything I live for now.”
One can say Erik Kratz’s “walk with the Lord” began in the home. Erik shares, “I grew up going to church. Every Sunday my parents, Floyd and Deb, and my sisters, Janelle and Jolene, and I would go to the Souderton Mennonite church in Souderton, Pennsylvania. Sunday worship and study were and are important to my family.” He continues, “One summer I attended Spruce Lake Bible camp where I accepted Jesus as my Savior and asked Him to come into my heart. The next year at 12 years old I was baptized, having attended the class in preparation for baptism and becoming a member of the church. That was the start of my walk, and my faith continues to grow each day.”
Teammate Chase Anderson  shares, “Erik is a wonderful guy to be around. His hard work and care he has for baseball and his family really reveals that Christ lives in him. We have had some great conversations about our faith and really challenged each other to grow more in love with the Lord. Erik and I have become friends, and we continue to build on that relationship.”
Erik lived in the same house in the same town (Telford, Pennsylvania) his first 18 years of his life. He attended Christopher Dock Mennonite High School (now called Dock Academy) in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1998. Besides baseball, Erik participated in soccer. His academics and his baseball talent took him to Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. At the diamond he put together a pretty nice resume. For his collegiate career, Erik compiled impressive numbers, a .415 batting average, 33 home runs, and 159 RBIs. Having caught every at-bat for every game he played, his stats were so impressive he earned Old Dominion Athletic Conference Player of the Year twice. Erik graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration.
Kratz Drafted in 2002
Erik was drafted in the 2002 major league baseball draft in the 29th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was the first player to be drafted out of the Division III school of Eastern Mennonite University. Kratz moved around various minor-league teams, where he was voted on All-Star teams and awarded with player of the week recognition’s. On July 17, 2010, he made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Houston Astros. He recorded his first major league hit against Bud Norris in that game. Over the 16 years as a professional Kratz played for seven major league teams, and he is now playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Eastern Mennonite University also played another important role in Erik’s life. He met his wife, Sarah, at EMU one evening, his freshman year and her sophomore year, when a group of students went bowling. Sarah’s version, as told by Erik, is she went with the group bowling because he was there. “I was oblivious to her intention,” Erik explains. “The group and the bowling were just cool. I remember telling my buddy he needs to make sure to walk Sarah back to the dormitory so she is not out late at night alone. I already had plans after the bowling. Sarah was not happy I did not walk her back to the dorm.”
Erik and Sarah did start hanging out together and eventually started dating. They married at Christmas break his senior year. Sarah graduated the year before and was teaching seventh grade math while Erik finished his senior year at EMU. Erik comments, “I was hoping to be drafted after I graduated, but that was not a sure thing since I attended a small D3 school. If we waited for summer, I might have been playing ball somewhere across the country. We agreed to get married at Christmas break. Since Sarah is an intelligent planner, I knew it would go off without a hitch.” Erik and Sarah will be married 17 years in December. They have three children Braden (11), Ethan (9), and Avery (5). They make their off-season home in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and their home church is Harrisonburg Mennonite church.
Dealing with Struggles.
Like all Christians, Kratz has found himself dealing with struggles. He has faced ridicule or teasing from other players because of being a Christian.
Once he was called “Baby Jesus” in a mocking way which was hurtful. The following week a new Christian player came on the team and soon the mocking stopped. However, the main struggle for Erik is pride. He shares, “Having an opportunity to possibly earn a large salary playing baseball is a struggle for me. The things you see in earthly possessions and even small prideful things like having a great game, one can begin to think it was all you getting it done. I am not the one doing it. I put in the hard work, but the Lord has blessed me with the talent. I want to be diligent and not be prideful of the outcomes, good or bad. No matter what happens, the Lord is with me to guide me through both. The Lord does not choose who wins a game, but I know there is peace and comfort in knowing He’s got it under control no matter what happens.”
Erik has one favorite Bible verse which he puts on his batting gloves. When he gives the gloves to fans, they will know the verse is important to him, and he hopes they will look it up. The verse is Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Erik explains, “It was not a direct command to just me, but a direct command to everyone. ‘Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.’ We are all afraid and discouraged at different times, and that is not just on the playing field. It is struggles in parenting, with family, with friends, and anything. Do not be discouraged for He is with us in all circumstances.”
When asked about his walk-up song as he approach home plate to bat, without hesitation, Erik said “Collide” by Skillet, an American rock band formed in Memphis, Tennessee. “Collide” received a Grammy nomination in 2005. “I have liked Skillet for years,” states Erik, “I feel their message is tremendous for what I am putting out there as a player. I want music that is strong and courageous.”
Sharing the Love of Christ
Erik Kratz understands the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others. He knows the two most important audiences are his family and teammates. “I am a dad,” states Kratz, “I hope the way my kids see me reading the Bible every morning, seeing me praying before meals and in all situations, good ones, bad ones, and in between ones, they come to know I have a relationship with the Lord Jesus.” Erik’s desire is his children will one day have their own relationship with the Lord.
Erik continues, “I know everything I have been given as a player has been from the Lord. It is helpful and hurtful to be around teammates a lot. The way I live my life and the decisions I make, even the mistakes I make, while around my teammates, they will see something different in me. The Lord has given me an opportunity to be an example of the love of Jesus. It has opened doors to guys asking what is different about you. It is not me opening doors, but the Holy Spirit working through me. I am not here to glorify myself in playing the game, but it is what He has done in my life that might bring others to Christ.”
Erik has seen different organizations that do a tremendous job in sharing Jesus. Though he has not been a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Athletes in Action in high school or college since his schools had their own campus ministries, he has seen what they have done in their ministries. He has good friends who are highly involved, especially in leadership positions. They also do an incredible job developing coaches to be leaders for kids. The organization Unlimited Potential Inc. (UPI) does an outstanding job of helping players and wives/ girlfriends grow in their faith, and they help arrange for mission trips. Erik hopes to take his oldest son on one in the future. For now, Erik and Sarah look at the off-season as family time, having younger children.
One event Erik and Sarah have gone to for five years and plan on this year is Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO). Erik shares, “PAO has encouraged me in my faith but also my wife’s faith. PAO has given Sarah an opportunity to have friends in baseball who are Christian. She has Christian friends, and she has friends in baseball, but now she has Christian friends in baseball who understand the life of professional sports which can be burdensome at times. We both can be encouraged by other people who understand our circumstances which helps.”
“The best way to grow in my relationship with Christ over days, years, seasons, has been when I am in God’s Word,” shares Erik. “Being in the Word had to be a set scheduled event, and now it has become a desired event. I feel I am missing out when I don’t get into the Bible. With a wife and three kids and a career I am pursuing, people wonder when I have time for it. You just make time. You make time for things you desire. I desire to be in God’s Word, and that means a lot to me and my personal growth.”
By Bruce A. Darnall, Lake Mills, WI
Photos by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers