SALT LAKE CITY -- They say the third time's the charm, but for three-time Triple-A All-Star catcher Erik Kratz, it will be difficult to top the last two midseason celebrations.
In 2009, Kratz walked off the field in Portland, Ore., with the game's MVP award. In 2010, he walked off the field in Allentown, Pa., with instructions to join the big league club after being informed of his promotion during the fourth inning of the All-Star Game. What could be in store for the Lehigh Valley backstop this year?
"I don't know," said Kratz with a smile. "It's a corny answer, but it's just an honor to be invited to it and to get to come see a different ballpark and hopefully showcase my skills. It's one game.
"You can say 'Oh, I don't get my three days off.' My wife and I are out here on vacation. How many people get to say they went on a three-day vacation in Salt Lake City? It's unbelievable. You don't find many views like this at a Minor League ballpark, let alone a big league ballpark."
It's no secret that All-Star position players garner attention/consideration with their bats, but Kratz prides himself on his skills as a receiver. The IronPigs, who have never finished above .500 since their debut in Allentown in 2008, lead the International League's North Division in Kratz's first season with the team. The 2011 IronPigs have a winning record when he's behind the plate (39-22), one game under when he's not. Their team ERA? A run-and-a-half lower (3.22 vs. 4.70). Even the staff's walks-to-strikeouts ratio is significantly better when Kratz's glove is the target.
Kratz's appreciation of the game is deep and he loves the aspects of the defense that don't always get noticed by fans watching closely.
"If a catcher has a good pickoff move to first, the guy's going to take one less step towards second base," he said. "People might not see that as a big deal. Now he tries to go first-to-third and gets thrown out by a step. Was that the right fielder who threw him out by a step or was it because of the catcher?
"Stuff like that. Even from second, one less step, a bang-bang play at the plate. ... But that shows up in the wins and losses. It's the game within the game."
IL coach and Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor saw Kratz's work up close as pitching coach for the 2010 Indians, where Kratz played 70 games before his callup. Treanor said the difference in the pitching staff was "noticeable" when Kratz worked with them.
"A lot of guys like to throw to him," he said. "It's kind of unusual, a guy that size (Kratz is 6-foot-4, 255 pounds), you know. But he puts out a great target and pitchers like throwing to him."
Will Kratz get another big call during tonight's game? He'd be thrilled, of course. But the veteran is happy just being on the field.
"I'm here because I love playing baseball. Hopefully I get a chance to play more in the big leagues. I'm 31. I don't feel like I'm 31. Some people say when you're 31, your career's done. But some guys play longer and I think I can, too.
"That's why I come into this game, for me, it's an honor. To be able to be voted in. It's not just fans that voted me in, but coaches, managers, general managers. ... I'm going to enjoy it."
True 'Blue': While Salt Lake City is filled with rising stars this week, one young athlete has perhaps the straightest arc of them all. Albuquerque Isotopes outfielder Trayvon Robinson's stock is perpetually on the rise, but his path goes deeper than his steady progress through the Minors. He's been an All-Star at every level. The prospect's roots go all the way through the Dodgers organization to Los Angeles.
Teammate Dana Eveland, by contrast, has played for seven different organizations since Robinson was drafted out of Crenshaw High School by the Dodgers in the 10th round of the 2005 June Draft. The 23-year-old LA native is also one of the great success stories of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and the MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA), both of which were founded in South Los Angeles. Even after being drafted, Robinson regularly trained at the UYA and also served as an offseason coach.
In fact, Robinson has a good shot at becoming the first player who regularly trained at the UYA to reach the Major Leagues. Another pioneer named Robinson working to make it to the Major Leagues as a Dodger?
"I hope nobody looks to me like [Jackie Robinson]," said Trayvon. "But I do look up to Jackie and how he handled himself with adversity."
On Jackie Robinson Day earlier this season in April, Trayvon returned to speak to students at Crenshaw High School, along with Major League All-Star Matt Kemp and a host of other current and former Dodgers. But it was Robinson who received the standing ovation.
"That's all we strive for," said the Dodgers' first selection from Crenshaw. "That's what got me here. When I was in high school, I looked up to lots of guys and for the kids in high school to look up to me now. ... That's just a dream come true.
"And from the front desk to the field, I look up to a lot of guys on the field now. The front office, the coaching staff, I look up to them. They're just great guys."
Isotopes (and Pacific Coast League All-Star) skipper Lorenzo Bundy predicts success for Robinson, if he can cut down the strikeouts (103 so far this season) and work more on making good contact and bunting.
"One out of three strikeouts is tough," said Bundy. "When he puts the ball in play, he's probably hitting .460."
Dodgers coach and 1962 National League MVP Maury Wills has worked with Robinson on bunting and has absolutely no doubts where he is ultimately headed.
"He's going to make the big leagues," said Wills. "He's on the fast track, in the terminology the Dodgers use, to get to the big leagues. He's a good student. He's got aptitude. He has this willingness to do whatever he needs to do to get better and make the big leagues. But I want him to be a first-line player, not somebody sitting on the bench."
Robinson is a switch-hitter with some speed, not completely unlike Wills, who offers the same prescription as Bundy.
"He swings a little harder than I did. But the thing that's going to get him there is his mental approach to the game. I think he has the desire to be outstanding and successful. He needs to hit line drives. With his running speed, he wants to hit a lot of ground balls too.
"Players develop differently. Just because he's struggling (with strikeouts) a little bit right now, that's not a minus. It doesn't mean he's not progressing. We go through periods like that, even when you're an established player. He's in a good place.
"I would trade with him right now, any day."
All-Star, all thumbs: If you see a pair of hands furiously manipulating a BlackBerry in the IL dugout tonight, they most likely belong to Toledo infielder Will Rhymes or @willrhymes as he's known to his 11,674 followers on Twitter.
"My agent brought [Twitter] up to me when I was in Detroit," said Rhymes, batting .324, fourth in the league. "I like it. It's a good way to interact with the fans. It's turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought it would be."
Rhymes insists he is not a pioneer or early adopter, though, just a fan of baseball ... and the fans.
"I had an old-school phone. I'm up in the big leagues with an old flip phone I had for like five years. My agent made me get a new phone. I'm not a technology person at all.
"It's hard for us at the ballpark. We're trying to work and it's hard to go over and give the fans as much attention as they want. It's a good way, on my own time, sitting on the bus, I can answer questions. The fans have been good to me. In the Minor Leagues, they're very supportive. They want to see you get there."
Salt Pond City? The spectacular geography of Utah carries with it a downside, other than the risk of visiting players missing game action while being mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains. Sometimes the city is blessed with ample supplies of water, but on occasion, too blessed.
In fact, in spring 1983, so much water came down from the mountains that when the snow melted, a dike had to be constructed at 1300 South, the street which runs along the left-field line of Spring Mobile Ballpark. Nearby State Street became the "State Street River" and water was redirected to the Jordan River. An emergency bridge was built so fans could get to Derks Field, the park that stood where the Bees play today.
Massive floods aren't predicted for tonight's All-Star Game, but because it resides in a flood plain with an underground river flowing beneath it, hidden inside the confines of Spring Mobile Ballpark are a pair of man-made ponds, built to contain runoff that could otherwise saturate the field.
"The ponds are for basically any water," said Bees head groundskeeper Jared Olson. "Water from the field drains, drains from the stands, from the dugouts. ... Anything that's not wastewater goes through there."
No team officials have heard of sunken treasure or rookies in the ponds, but Olson articulated the consensus opinion.
"It definitely has a smell, so there could be some people hiding or dying in there."
Unique among ballparks: While Albuquerque also has hosted a pair of All-Star Games, Salt Lake City becomes the first to host two in the same ballpark. The 1996 Triple-A All-Star Game took place at this same facility, then named Franklin Quest Field.