Dan Kaczrowski Has Summer of Success with St. Paul Saints
This was supposed to be the summer of Dan. Two years ago, St. Paul Saints second baseman Dan Kaczrowski hung up his cleats to pursue a career as a special education teacher at St. Anthony High School. He had concluded that his playing days were over, and wanted to pursue his vocation, benefiting from having the summers off to enjoy the great outdoors of Minnesota with friends and family. That was the plan, but you know what they say about the best laid plans?
Actually Dan’s summer began as planned. He was enjoying a summer filled with outdoor events that was bringing his dream to fruition. Then came the call.
“There was the exhibition game against the Japanese All-Star team. (Manager) George (Tsamis) had a lot of rookies play, and a lot of fill-ins play. I didn’t have anything going on and George texted me and asked if I wanted to play. I thought, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t have anything going on, and I wanted to check out the new stadium.
“I played pretty well that day, and after the game was over he asked me what I had going on for the rest of the summer, and I was like, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?’ and he was like, ‘You know exactly what I mean.’ I quit for a reason, I wanted to enjoy my summer. I was coaching this summer, so I told him to just let me know if you really needed me. ‘I’m not saying yes, but you let me know.’ A couple of days later he texted me and he was like, ‘We have injuries and we need you, can you play?’ Luckily the other coach was able to take over the team and we had a dad that was able to help out. That helped out a lot, and I was in.”
Being a Saints player was not a new thing to Kaczrowski. Dan had grown up a baseball fan watching his local team, the Minnesota Twins, play. His dad had got him interested in the sport from an early age, and he followed hometown hero Kirby Puckett.
When he got older Dan decided to attend Hamline University in St. Paul where he began his freshman year playing both hockey and baseball. While he loved baseball, hockey was his true passion, but he was realistic about the sport he would have the greatest success in.
“I thought I had a better chance of succeeding in baseball. I tried playing both my freshman year at Hamline University, and I realized that was a lot, and with school work and fall baseball and captain’s practices for hockey I realized I probably had a better chance in baseball, and that was the right decision, although I missed hockey a lot.”
Dan was a starter on the diamond from the moment that he stepped foot on campus, but in his third year at the school things changed. He found that he was beginning to come into his own and it all started with a big day at the Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers, a day that changed the direction of his life greatly.
“My junior year I had a really good year. I was the MIAC (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) player of the year. It kind of came out of nowhere. I kind of grew into my body a little bit, and I hit really well. I remember one of my friends who actually played for the Saints, Andrew Bennett, talked to me after I had a really good game in Concordia-Moorhead. He told me that I was going to be drafted. I thought ‘ya, right,’ but I was having a really good year, and I thought that maybe I should take this a little more seriously than I already was.
“I wound up playing in a collegiate summer league in Danville, IL, and was the MVP of the league that summer, and I had a lot of teams looking at me at that point. That was when I realized that this (playing professionally) might actually happen.”
In 2009, upon graduating from Hamline, Dan decided to begin his professional career with the Saints. “Played with Saints in 2009 for three or four weeks. That was awesome because it was my first stint in pro ball and I had some friends on the team at the time. My coach at Hamline (Jason Verdugo) was the pitching coach with the Saints, Andrew Bennett was on the team, and I had a blast.”
In his four weeks with St. Paul, Kaczrowski hit .286 with 8 runs and 5 RBI in 12 games. He played excellent defense for the team, and in June heard his name called during Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. Dan was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 26th round, and days later was on his way to Yakima in the Northwest League.
In 71 games there he hit .266 with 43 runs scored, 20 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He also showed some incredible versatility, playing every position but catcher and pitcher, while only making four errors.
In 2010 he split time between two levels, beginning at Advanced-A Visalia and ending the season at AA-Mobile. Combined he hit .266 with 58 runs, 43 RBI and 15 steals in 117 games. Versatility was again a hallmark, as was solid defense, as Dan played everywhere but catcher, and made just 14 errors combined in the two principle positions he played, shortstop and second base.
In 2011 and 2012 he remained at Mobile, where he played well but did not swing well enough for his own liking. “I played really good defense there, but I was not satisfied with my hitting. I didn’t really feel like I was getting the kind of quality at-bats I wanted.”
In 2013, Dan reported to Spring Training, but was released by the Diamondbacks as the camp was coming to a close. Out of a job he wondered what he would be doing with himself, but it did not take long for his former team to come calling again.
“George texted me the next morning after I got released. He asked me if I wanted to play for him again. This was a new experience that I wasn’t used to. Spring training was over and everyone’s rosters were full, so there wasn’t really a place for me out there. St. Paul was really my second best choice at the time. I could come home, and that was exciting.”
Dan returned to the Saints where he had a quality season, batting .276 with 49 runs scored and 29 RBI in 91 games. He had a great deal of success, but decided that his time on the diamond had come to an end.
“After 2013 I was just done playing. I was ready to move on to start my life outside of baseball, and enjoy the summer; do things with my friends, go to the cabin. I didn’t even plan on this happening this year. I work in a school, and so I have my summer off, and I am able to be here for now. I never really expected to play this year. I didn’t prepare myself in the off-season to play. It just kind of all fell into place.”
The lack of preparation showed early on. It had been nearly 20 months since he had swung a bat, and it took some time for Dan to find his timing and rhythm. Through his first 24 games the Saints second baseman was hitting .188 with a .272 on-base percentage. On July 18, things dramatically changed.
Over the last month he has steadily watched that average raise to a high of .274 on August 11. He is currently hitting .273. During that span Dan had a 16-game hit streak, and has hit in 21 of those 26 games. That has included nine multi-hit games. An amazing turnaround that makes one wonder how good he would be doing had he been to spring training and had an additional month to the season.
While his bat has steadily been coming around, his defense has not missed a beat. Dan has earned praise from his teammates and his manager for how he has taken over the second base position. Shortstop Anthony Phillips called Kaczrowski “a smooth fielder who makes all the plays,” and his manager explained that Dan is “as solid as one could ask for at the position. His presence at second has been a key to our defense.”
While Kaczrowski has been excited about how well he has been hitting, it is his defense that he is most pleased with. “My whole career I focused on my defense. My defense is what got me to AA. As long as my defense, my glove, and my throwing are good, then I am happy with the way I am playing. Base hits and RBI are definitely a plus being in the nine hole.”
It has been an amazing summer for a guy who isn’t even supposed to be here. This was supposed to be the Summer of Dan but, instead, his addition to the team is arguably the best in-season addition any club in the American Association has made this season. He has played incredibly well, remained healthy, and been a real quality addition to the clubhouse. He has been the perfect addition to a club that needed a guy that could fill a vital role with extreme professionalism.
For Dan, the best part of this season is that he has no pressure on him at all. He came in to fill a void, and he has done that way beyond expectations. That has allowed him to play the game with an attitude he has never been able to experience before.
“I try to help the team win as much as I can. I am just having fun with this. This is not living and dying by every single at bat that I have. That has made this a lot of fun. There is no pressure on me. I want this team to win. I don’t want to fail and for some reason I am the reason why this team didn’t win. I get along with the guys well. The pitchers like having me at second base. They appreciate my defense. It’s fun being on this team.”
The pitchers most definitely do like having him at second base. Dan has made just six errors at the position this season, and has been a deadly double-play combination with Phillips. They are like a shop-vac up the middle, and both have exceptional range as well.
The fact that Dan Kaczrowski is still playing for the St. Paul Saints is testament to the most amazing part of his character. He joined the team to fill a void after both Steve Nikorak and Sam Maus were hurt and, even after Nikorak returned, Dan agreed to stay because the team liked him at second. Two weeks ago the club added Ryan Lashley, and Kaczrowski considered stepping away again, but his team wanted him to remain, even if it meant that he would miss the early part of the school year. His students mean a lot to him, but his loyalty to his team was equally as important.
“I have always tried to be a good teammate. People could say what they want about my talent level and how I play the game, but off the field and in the clubhouse I feel like I am a good teammate and that I respect other people.”
This season the St. Paul Saints have been blessed that their second baseman chose to spend his summer on the baseball field rather than at the lake or out fishing. He has quickly established himself as a key cog to this Saints machine, and is aiding in making this the most formidable lineup, the most talented defense, and best clubhouse in the American Association. I don’t know what kind of teacher Dan Kaczrowski is, but if he half the man he is on the field, Minnesota just found their next Teacher of the Year.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA