Tonawanda News — Tonawanda native Mike Kramer, inductee into the 2012 Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame, was always on top of his game.
Especially at his home field, Veterans Park in the City Tonawanda, Kramer was dialed in — even if he was using his prodigious left arm to loosen lug nuts.
Following one of his trademark victories — he had approximately 160 of them in his stellar career — Kramer and Tonawanda AC teammate Chris Prezioso were called from the postgame bullpen to change a flat tire of Tonawanda News correspondent Doug Smith, who was covering the game.
According to the scribe in distress, Kramer proved to be equally efficient with a tire iron as he was a ball and glove.
“That’s just Mike,” Smith said. “Always willing to be a team player no matter what the situation.”
While it’s unclear if Kramer will ever be inducted into the Car Repair Hall of Fame, one thing is certain, he is most deserving of the Hall
of Fame nod that has been bestowed upon him.
The lefty hurler joins 12 others into the Hall of Fame. The ceremony takes place Sept. 19 at the Lake Erie Italian Club in Blasdell.
“I’m very proud,” Kramer said. “I played for a long time and gave my whole arm for baseball. They were the best times of my life.”
A 1984 graduate of Tonawanda High School, Kramer went to Division-III Marietta (Ohio) College, where he immediately became the No. 2 starter. In his first season, the Pioneers fell in the national championship game. In his sophomore campaign, they won it all. Kramer
was the only four-year letterman of his class.
But he is best known in the Twin Cities for his amateur career in the Tonawandas.
Kramer began when he was 16 in the Tonawanda News league and played until his retirement in 2006 after an achilles injury. He also played in the Suburban, Erie-Niagara and MUNY AAA leagues, earning admiration from teammates and opponents alike.
“He was never afraid to take the ball,” said Geoff Schaab, a six-year teammate of Kramer. “He always wanted to get that big out, which is why those who played with him respected him the most.”
Kramer was a fastball-slider pitcher in his early seasons, but as got older, he developed a baffling changeup, making him even more effective. Kramer had impeccable control, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to go long stretches without issuing a walk.
“He would go seven, eight games in between a walk,” former Tonawanda AC manager Al Chester said. “He was such an easy pitcher to catch because he was always around the plate and pitched to spots.”
Because he issued so few walks, stringing several hits together to beat him was a tough chore.
“He got more out of his ability than any other pitcher I ever managed,” Chester said. “I knew every time I sent him out to the mound I had a good chance of winning.”
When he did issue the rare free pass, he had a reason.
“There was one game where he walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches, and then didn’t fall behind a batter the rest of the day,” Smith said. “I asked him what happened to the first batter and he told me ‘the plate was crooked.’”
Kramer attributes his accuracy to his mechanics, which were picture-perfect.
“I was only taught one thing, throw your chin at your target,” he said. “My twin brother (the late Kevin Kramer, himself a standout
baseball player) and I would always be playing something every single day. We’d be over at the little league field playing some sort of
game. You really don’t see that anymore,”
Kramer eventually got to know most of the hitters tendencies — along with the umpires. He had no problem exploiting a strike zone for
“I knew exactly where I could pick my spots,” he said. “Some umpires would give you a few extra inches off the plate and you have to take advantage of that.”
Kramer was willing to take the ball under any circumstances. One weekend, he fashioned a complete game victory on Friday, then started the first end of a doubleheader two days later, won that game, then won the back end of the doubleheader in relief.
Three appearances in two days, 17 innings, three wins.
“I wanted the ball whenever I could,” Kramer said.
Kramer played most of his career under Chester before playing for Leib’s during his final two seasons. Kramer also played for Leib’s in
tournaments Tonawanda didn’t qualify for.
“I didn’t like coaching against him, that’s for sure,” said Leib’s founder Ron Leib, also a 2012 inductee into the Hall of Fame. “I bet
he beat us more times than we beat him. Managing him was easy, you just gave him the ball and got out of the way.”
“If it wasn’t for those two, there might not even be amateur baseball in the area,” Kramer said of Chester and Leib, his former managers.
While playing for Tonawanda, the team was known for having boisterous fans, who badgered opposing players and umpires alike. Some of the partisans will be joining Kramer at the induction ceremony.
“When I was inducted, they told me to bring all those guys who heckled. But I told them I’m not sure you really want me to do that,” Kramer said with a laugh.
Kramer, who is enjoying retirement with his wife and daughters, misses the bonding with teammates and opponents the most.
“The camaraderie was great,” he said. “We’d hang out after the games and have a few beers until 10-11 at night sometimes. I even liked hanging out with the guys on the other team. I hope I’m remembered as a great teammate who hated to lose.”
He will likely be remembered exactly as such.
“He was an extremely competitive guy and the ultimate team player,” Leib said. “If I could find more guys like him I’d never worry.”