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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Marc Kroon: Still Chasing It

Playing in the major leagues is the dream of many and the reality of few. With any dream, the chase can become addictive, especially as one draws closer to realizing their goal. Right-handed Marc Kroon realized his dream of making it to the major leagues four times during his career, albeit all four times  were quick tastes of what he hoped would be lengthy stays. Now nearing 39 years of age, Kroon is still playing and still chasing his dream; hoping that he gets one more opportunity to be a major league player.

Kroon was drafted out of high school by the New York Mets in 1991 in the second round of the MLB draft. To give a sense of how long he has been playing, that year the Mets were led by the likes of Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, and Ron Darling. The hard throwing Kroon was sent to the minors to work on becoming a starter. He had moderate success in his first few years in the Mets’ system, but was traded to the San Diego Padres following the 1993 season.

The trade was the catalyst that kicked Kroon’s prospect status into a higher gear. He began averaging better than a strikeout an inning, and made enough progress that he was summoned to make his major league debut with the Padres in July, 1995. His first game was a disaster, as he came into the 9th inning of a tie game against the Astros, only to take the loss. 

Kroon got into only one more game with the Padres in 1995, which came the day following his loss. Although his team lost, he completely redeemed himself by pitching 1.2 perfect innings, punctuated by strikeouts of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

Beginning in 1996, Kroon was converted into strictly a reliever. He made brief appearances with San Diego in 1997 and 1998, but was never given the opportunity to earn a full time roster spot. Midway through 1998, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, which commenced his entry into the world of a baseball journeyman.

Kroon made brief appearances on the rosters of the Reds in 1998 and the Colorado Rockies in 2004, but otherwise simmered just below the major league surface. In addition to those two franchises, he also pitched in the systems of the Mariners, Dodgers, and Angels, in addition to a stint in an independent league. He generally pitched well wherever he went, but was seen as a classic “4-A” type player.

The greatest success of Kroon’s career came after he decided to play in Japan. He was immediately the best closer in Japan. He set a Japanese Central League record by recording 41 saves in 2008 for the Yomiuri Giants, and also established another record by reaching 101 mph on his fastball during a game.

Kroon had 127 saves during his four years in Japan, and even though he was 37 at the end of the 2010 season, he decided to give his major league aspirations another shot. He signed with the San Francisco Giants, and spent all of 2011 pitching for the Triple-A team in Fresno. He had a 5.11 ERA in 49 games, but the 20 saves and 52 strikeouts he had in 49.1 innings showed that he could still pitch. Unfortunately he was not able to crack the roster of the defending World Series Champions.

It is unclear where Kroon will pitch in 2012, but it is obvious that his competitiveness and desire to be a big league player remain as strong as ever. If everything goes as planned, he will suit up for his 22nd professional season in baseball. Some dreams die hard, and Kroon is determined that his will end on a high note. Whether that be on a major league roster or pitching somewhere else; as long as he keeps playing, Kroon will consider it to be a success. 

More information on Kroon’s career statistics is available at I was recently able to catch up with him and find out a little more about his experiences in baseball.

Marc Kroon Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: When I was four years old my mother signed me up for baseball as means for her to have a babysitter for a couple of hours while she worked a second job. I have been playing ever since.  I always wanted to be a major league player when I was young but it wasn't until Dwight Gooden’s rookie year that I really wanted to be like him and play in the big leagues.

What was the process like getting drafted by the Mets in 1991?:
The process was crazy for me. The first time I was a full time pitcher was my senior year. I was throwing 93 or 94 mph. At one game there were 25 scouts watching me pitch. I remember being nervous, but had a good game. The day I was drafted I was playing summer ball, and when I got home my mom told me I had been drafted by the Mets (Remember no cell phones back then). I had to wait until I got home to get the news. 

When the scouts came to my house a couple of days later and offered me a contract, my mom said ‘no’ to them and told them I was going to college. I was devastated and begged my mom to let me play, and she said ‘no.’ About a week later they came back and I promised my mom that if she let me go play that I would finish college someday. She agreed, but only after the Mets gave me money for school for when my career was done.

Do you have any specific memories from your major league debut?:
My major league debut was horrible. When I got called up I was a starting pitcher in AA for the Padres. Ron Washington was my manager. He called me at 6 a.m. to give me the news. The Padres were in Houston, in the old Astrodome. It was the 8th inning and we were winning by a run and Bochy called for me to pitch the 9th inning. Trevor Hoffman was there and confused why he was not going in for the save. My first batter was Bagwell. I walked him. Derrick Bell got a hit, and I walked the third batter. I was taken out the game and the relief pitcher gave up a walk-off single to lose the game.  It happened so fast I was in shock. Not a very good memory.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?:
It would have to be 2009 winning the Japan Championship. I got a save in that game. Also, every day that I spent in the big leagues was special to me. I respect the game and understand how hard it is to be an everyday player.

Who has been your favorite coach or manager?:
I would say it was Tim Flannery. He was my manager in 1994 in the Cal League. We won it all that year.  He really took his time with me and helped me believe in myself. It was my fourth year in pro ball and never had a winning season. That year I went 13-6, I believe. I was the starter for game one of the championship series that year and was the winning pitcher.

Who was the toughest hitter that you ever faced?:
Coming up in the minor leagues I played against the A's a lot, and Scott Spiezio  was always tough for me to get out. I’m sure there were others, but he stands out the most.

What was it like playing in Japan?:
Playing in Japan was one of the best experiences of my life. It was something that I will never forget. The Japanese people treated me as one of their own and welcomed me with open arms. My teammates and coaches were great. There will always be a place in my heart for Japan. It was great for me and my family.

How badly do you want to play in the major leagues again before you retire?:
I had a chance to play in the big leagues at a young age of 22. I was lucky.  I would have loved to play in the big leagues one last time to see if I still had what it takes to be a big league pitcher. I believe I still do, but the big leagues do not define me. I love baseball and I love pitching.

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?:
Everything happens for a reason, so I don’t think I would change anything. I was young and stubborn and lazy at times, so I guess I would change that if I could. Like I said everything happens for a reason.

What do you think you will do once you decide to stop playing?:
I will spend as much time with my kids as possible. I have missed so much of their lives. I also love to play golf and cook.


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