Erik Kratz is a self-described “hugger,” though this year’s COVID-19 safety protocols have limited the veteran catcher’s ability to embrace his teammates.
Given his emotional words Friday, those teammates will have little doubt that Kratz cares about them as much as anybody.
The two players have only known each other since last season when they played together at Triple-A, though they formed a bond during that time, then during their work at the Yankees' alternate training site in Scranton, Pa.
After throwing six scoreless innings -- and receiving a big hug from Kratz in the dugout -- García revealed after the game that he calls the catcher his “padre.”
“I found out how old he was when he got called up to Triple-A, I did a little bit of math -- I'm pretty good at math -- so I figured out that, yeah, it's possible that he could have been my son,” Kratz said. “It wasn’t meant for TV; it was more meant for a joke that we've always had, but it ended up getting caught. You always be careful what you say.”
Kratz was also behind the plate for García's start on Friday night, when he was charged with four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Kratz didn’t hold back when asked about his bond with García and other young pitchers -- specifically players from struggling homes in Latin America -- whom he’s worked with in the later years of his career.
“You're probably going to get me a little emotional,” Kratz said, when asked about his impact on younger teammates. “I love seeing what they can do. And I think sometimes some people forget where they come from.”
Kratz paused, fighting back tears as he continued.
“Some people forget that they want it just as badly, and there's people at home that want it just as badly for them,” Kratz said. “They're not around them; they're not around their family, they're not around the people there. Being older, hopefully I can be somebody that can step in and help that relationship and not everyone sees it.
“My Spanish isn't that great, but it's something that I try, and I want it to be good. Now I get to cry on Zooms, because I’ve got kids, too. I hope somebody would treat my kids that way.”
Catching García’s debut last Sunday against the Mets was meaningful to Kratz, though he admitted that he would have felt the same sense of pride had he been watching on TV thousands of miles away.
“It's hard to explain,” Kratz said. “Being a up-and-down type of player my entire career … personally, you want to have good stats, you want to have everything defensively, offensively all that stuff. Ultimately for me, the things I’ve found satisfaction and incredible gratification in is being able to make connections with players -- in the Minor Leagues, in the big leagues, pitchers, position players, whatever it is -- and hopefully go on to see them have success.
“I never caught some guys in the big leagues that I had connections with in the Minor Leagues, and it doesn't mean any more or any less just because I didn't catch their debut. To then also get to catch Deivi’s debut, it just made it that more sweet.”
Manager Aaron Boone spoke of Kratz’s contributions both on and off the field and the impact they have had during his brief time on the Yankees’ roster.
“Getting to be around Erik, really over the last couple weeks ... he's just a special person, special makeup,” Boone said. “He’s done a great job as a player for us between the lines, but what he's brought behind the scenes and just the kind of person he is and the kind of impact he has on, whether it's veteran players, whether it's young players, it's been a lot. It's been really neat for me to see.
“He’s beloved in that room by everyone, and it's because of the joy he kind of lives his life with that's infectious. The fact that you can't help but notice how much he cares about other people. And at the age of 40, he's still capable of going out there between the lines and impacting our club. We've been lucky to have him.”