While big leaguers fight with owners about labor issues, minor leaguers like Jack Kruger are getting ready for another season of long bus rides and longer odds.
“Get on the first plane to Los Angeles,” his manager said.
The Angels, Salt Lake’s parent club, were promoting Kruger to the majors to replace a catcher with a concussion. The Angels were playing the Tampa Bay Rays that evening, May 6, 2021, and he was expected to be there.
He watched from the bench as the game spun by quickly. Fifth inning. Sixth. Seventh. Finally, in the ninth inning, Kruger got the nod. He jogged to the plate, eyes focused, shin guards, chest protector and catcher’s mask on.
There had been no time to warm up properly. He had taken only six practice throws instead of his usual 40. What if he had to make a quick throw to second base? Would the ball sail into the outfield? Would it hit the pitcher. But everything unfolded perfectly. The Angels got three quick outs. Final score: Tampa Bay 8, Los Angeles 3. Kruger’s team lost, and he never got to bat, but at least he tasted the big time.
Here’s the thing about professional baseball: It does not take long for harsh reality to crash down.
The next day, as Kruger readied for his second game with the Angels, a team executive pulled him aside. Kruger thought he was about to get a hearty congratulations. Instead, the executive informed him that he was being designated for assignment — a kind of baseball purgatory. If no other team wanted him, the Angels could send him back to the minors or cut him completely.
Kruger has always been an underdog. As a child he developed Perthes disease, a hip bone disorder that forced him to use crutches for nearly two years in grade school. Because the disorder slowed his growth, he was often the smallest player on the field until midway through high school.
“Jack has what I call a ‘figure-it-out component,’” said his college coach. “He’s the guy who can figure out how to get off the island. He could be on Wall Street right now, he could be in business right now, he could be a lawyer now. But he loves baseball too much.”
I see myself on the Rangers, behind the dish, helping lead the team to a win in the World Series,” he said. “You have to be delusional in a way. Confident where you 110 percent believe that you are the right man for the job. And if other people don’t see it, then they’re wrong, and you have to show them that.”