When Jason Krizan began his professional baseball career, he was a 22-year-old single guy with a full head of hair, an NCAA record for doubles in a season and dreams of splitting gaps on a swift ascent to the big leagues.
That was 11 years ago. And 1,132 minor-league games. And 4,577 minor-league plate appearances. And three organizations. Three winter league seasons in the Dominican Republic, too.
The hair is long gone. But what he’s gained over the past decade is so much more important, beginning with his family. He and his wife, Kristin, have a 2-year-old son, Carter.
“The best kid in the world,” Krizan said. “I may be a little biased.”
She is a Delta flight attendant while he has been living the itinerant life of a minor-league baseball player. It was hard to tell who was more on the move. All the while, he hoped for the elusive call to the big leagues.
The call finally came on Friday. the giants are selecting Krizan’s contract from Triple-A Sacramento and he’ll be in the starting lineup as the left fielder for the series opener against the Washington Nationals at Oracle Park.
There’s a bit of irony in the timing. Krizan has knocked on the door several times over the years with the Tigers, Mets and Giants. He knocked loudly when he hit .316 with 16 home runs for Sacramento last season. He made it onto the major-league taxi squad at one point last year, flying from Oklahoma City to meet the Giants in Cincinnati, but wasn’t activated. All those denials and near brushes with destiny had to be excruciating.
When the call finally came, it wasn’t because he was tattooing the baseball at Triple A. He’s hitting just .213 in 13 games. But the Giants need a left-handed hitter with LaMonte Wade Jr. still rehabbing a knee injury, Steven Duggar out two months with an oblique strain, Mike Yastrzemski on the COVID-19 list and now Joc Pedersen hobbled by a strained groin.
And the Giants had an additional roster space Friday when right-hander Dominic Leone tested positive and had to be placed on the COVID-19 injured list.
So finally, Krizan, two months away from his 33rd birthday, found himself at the right place at the right time.
“From early on in my professional career, a lot of the older guys say keep going and play until they stop giving you a jersey,” Krizan said toward the end of spring training, when he was among the last roster cuts. “That’s the attitude that I’ve taken. I feel like I can still keep up. I feel like I can play at a high level. And I still enjoy it. That’s the most important thing.”
His promotion will be a cause célèbre within the Giants clubhouse, and not just among the players. Almost everyone, coaches included, has crossed paths with him at one point or another. Bullpen coach Craig Albernaz was his teammate of him at Double A in the Tigers system in 2014.
“It’s amazing how much life has happened,” Albernaz said. “But he can still flat-out hit. He was probably one of the most consistent hitters I’ve ever played with. Consistently great at-bats, he does n’t give a pitch away. He just has a knack for finding the barrel and finding the gap.”
Giants catcher Curt Casali and Krizan were in the same 2011 draft class — Krizan was an eighth-round pick — and they reported to Rookie ball together with the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. They’ve been friends ever since.
“He barrels the ball probably more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Casali said. “It’s just kind of insane that he hasn’t been to the big leagues already.”
It’s not as if Krizan put up fringe numbers every year or was a candidate to be released. He set the NCAA record with 39 doubles for Dallas Baptist, the same university that produced former Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and he’s even displayed some sneaky pop. In 2016, he was a late replacement in the Double-A All-Star Home Run Derby and hit 30 homers to take the title in a field that included Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Higashioka.
Prior to that display, Krizan had hit 35 homers in his 635-game minor-league career.
“That was so much fun,” he said.
Other times weren’t as fun. Krizan doesn’t want to know how many times he’s circumnavigated the globe in a bus. Drafted as an outfielder, he kept learning new positions, adding first, second and third, in a bid to make himself more versatile. It’s a tough thing to keep working toward a goal without fully allowing yourself to envision it.
“It was just too hard to think about,” he said. “You start to see some of your friends become coaches.”
— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) August 24, 2021
Starting a family two years ago made continuing his baseball career tougher than ever. Child care isn’t the easiest thing when one parent is a flight attendant and the other parent is a minor-league baseball player. Krizan and his family live a five-minute drive from his parents in Austin, Texas, which has been a godsend.
“Free childcare,” he said. “But I mean, we also want to raise our own kid, right? So we’re trying to figure out the next move. Having a kid puts everything into perspective, but I think pro ball matures you as well. I’ve been playing this game for a long time, yeah, not at the highest level, but the minor leagues help you grow as a person and you come across a lot of good people along the way.”
When Krizan had an opportunity to go elsewhere this past offseason, the Giants were in touch right away. He didn’t have to spend much time thinking about it. I have spent even less time wondering whether this baseball dream was still worth pursuing. That part wasn’t in question.
“That’s what makes Krizzy, Krizzy,” Albernaz said. “It’s very easy to be bitter about the game. But to his credit, he keeps working, he always knew he could play and brings a great attitude. He fits the clubhouse we’ve established here.”
Krizan said he knew he picked the right organization as a minor-league free agent last year after an ice storm in Austin delayed his arrival in camp and the organization responded with support and understanding. When you’re the new guy trying to crack the roster, the last thing you want to do is show up late.
“You can get pushed to the side,” Krizan said. “But (manager) Gabe Kapler texted me and said there’s no rush. So from the get-go, I could just tell it, it was a great group.”
Casali said he was crushed last year when he walked into the clubhouse at Cincinnati, saw Krizan sitting at a locker and then realized that he hadn’t been officially added to the roster.
“Can you imagine?” Casali said. “Holding onto it for that long? And still having the positive attitude that he does every day? He just comes to work. And I’ve been hoping that this year it all pays off.
“He’s changed a lot. He’s got a family now, and I kind of poke fun at him for the balding part. But it’s all in good fun. And at the same time, he’s still the same guy that he’s always been.”
Except now Krizan can call himself a big leaguer.
(Photo: Austin Ginn/MLB Photos via Getty Images)