Coaching the Game and the Lifestyle

Introducing Michael Kraatz, MICDS Varsity Baseball Coach

Seven-year-old Michael Kraatz was busy constructing a paper airplane fleet at his grandparents’ house when he looked up to see gray-uniformed baseball players on the television. He watched the game and then watched another game the next day. The men in gray were the Atlanta Braves and they were vying for a World Series trophy. Kraatz was hooked. He’s the rare St. Louisan, born and raised, who cheers for a team outside Cardinal Nation. He rattled off the names of various Atlanta managers and coaches, saying, “It’s all about the people, not where they are. If they moved to Anchorage, I’d root for the Anchorage Braves.”

“It’s all about the people” is a common refrain from Kraatz, MICDS’ new varsity baseball coach, and it underpins how he lives his life and how he leads his teams. For instance, he sees himself as woven into the fabric of MICDS baseball, becoming a part of its rich history but not dominating it. “I want the alumni to feel welcome to come back. It’s their field, not mine,” he said. “I just keep it right now. Current players realize they are part of a hundred-year-old family, and the players that come after them will grow the family. We’re about honoring our players first, not just the ones we have, but the ones we had and the ones we will have.”

Creating that team starts with acknowledging the game as it was designed. “We talk about how it’s played before addressing the individual strengths and weaknesses of our players,” he said. “It’s important, too, from a psychological standpoint.” He acknowledges the pressure today’s athletes feel to measure up based on certain criteria, and says that baseball was designed to allow players to thrive despite perhaps not hitting those specific goals. “The best coaches can manage that attitude and promote the purest version of the game to athletes and their families.” He strives to create a team platform that encourages anyone to join and be successful at various levels. “Skills are important so naturally we’ll develop that,” he said, “but we’ll also develop ballplayers that understand and respect baseball. It’s a game and a lifestyle all in one.”

That lifestyle spills into all aspects of a player’s world. Kraatz is a firm believer that a good balance between academics and athletics results in the best outcome for students. He says that education takes priority over athletics, but that sports are a great platform for learning regardless of player talent. “There’s a reason we call athletics ‘co-curricular,’ since learning takes place after the last bell and when the whistle is blown.” It’s all about finding a balance that means success in the classroom mirrors success on the field or the court. “We become consistent in our approach to everything, trying to do our best whether it’s taking a test, playing a game, reading a book, paying attention to a movie; in everything we do,” he said. “I’m trying to live that way myself.”

He models this balance by going to school himself, and is “one dissertation away from an educational doctorate.” He’s juggling teaching and coaching with studies and a family. He and his wife, Liz, are raising four children and have a fifth on the way, and he shares his love of baseball with them whenever possible. He tells young players, “Have fun, swing hard, run fast. That’s it. When you stop having fun, you’re doing something wrong. Or the people around you are doing something wrong.”

He’s ready to work hard and have fun this spring out on the diamond at MICDS. “Our mission is that by the time our athletes leave our campus, they feel accomplished in the classroom and on the field and have zero regrets about the efforts they put into everything as a Ram.” He’s eager to partner with team parents, too. “Parents love their kids and want them to do well. What they’ll learn is that I love their kids, too, because they’re my kids now as well.”

It’s all about the people and the purity of the game. Play ball!