MILWAUKEE -- If you're around baseball long enough, one of the pleasures is renewing acquaintances with guys you've covered in the past.
So I arrived at Miller Park on Friday in good time to get caught up with old friend Rick Kranitz, currently riding high as pitching coach of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.
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Kranitz was a member of the Cubs organization for 22 years, serving as an assistant pitching coach and as the bullpen coach. He also did yeoman's work in the minor leagues as a coach and coordinator.
Like many others, Kranitz was saddened to see the Cubs announce the firing of general manager Jim Hendry last week.
"He was the reason I was in the big leagues," Kranitz said. "When he came over, I was the pitching coordinator. The next year, he pushed to get me to the big leagues. So I'm forever grateful for that. I can't say enough about him and the kind of person he is to work for and to work with. He's a true baseball man, and it shows the kind of person he is when he worked as hard as he did to the end knowing that he was going to be let go."
There were times during his own days with the Cubs when Kranitz had a chance to be the big-league pitching coach, but it wasn't to be. He expressed no what-ifs, instead saying how much he learned under former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, now with the Yankees.
"It all works out for a reason," Kranitz said. "As I look back now, I probably wasn't ready. I needed to go through a few things at Florida (he was the Marlins' pitching coach in 2006-07). It's big step to be a big-league pitching coach. You think you can do it, but then you understand, 'Yeah, it is different.'
"I was in an environment in Florida with some young guys where I was still able to learn. I had a great guy to learn from in (former Marlins manager) Joe Girardi. Then, of course, who I think has been the most influence on me is Larry Rothschild and being able to go someplace and try the things I thought would work through Larry. I watched him talk with players and work with players. I learned from, I thought, the best."
Current Cubs reliever Kerry Wood interacted early and often with Kranitz at the beginning of his pro career.
"He was great," Wood said. "He had a way of keeping it simple for me and some of the younger guys when we had a chance to get up there when we might panic and not trust our stuff. Usually it was something small or a little detail and he'd say, 'Trust yourself.' He was a big guy to give you the confidence that you belonged here."
Kranitz had a young staff in Florida. He then served as Baltimore's pitching coach from 2008-10, working with young pitchers who had their own growing to do.
With the Brewers, he has a staff of double-digit winners in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf.
"What has really been satisfying is that the five guys that we have to pitch every day, not only are they quality guys, they all come well prepared as well as anybody I've ever seen," he said. "They're gamers. Not only that, once we got K-Rod (setup man Francisco Rodriguez), it really solidified our bullpen. We have one of the top pitching staffs in the National League. With that addition, K-Rod really set everything up for us.
"We didn't have to rely on (LaTroy) Hawkins and (Kameron) Loe and (Takashi) Saito too much. We could pick our spots for them, but K-Rod pitches every day and so does (closer John) Axford. That's huge. We can have a starter go 5 innings, and we're very comfortable we're going to win the ballgame."