First-Round MLB Draft Pick Puts God Back Above Baseball
KC Royals’ Nick Pratto learns proper priorities.
For many years, Nick Pratto’s life revolved around baseball. He hit the walk-off single that won the Little League World Series for the Huntington Beach team in 2011. He was a star player in high school, was on the gold medal-winning team in the U-18 Baseball World Cup, and was selected by the Kansas City Royals as the No. 14 pick overall in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Last summer he played in the Rookie League, batting in 34 runs and stealing 10 bases in just 52 games.
While Pratto is still heavily involved in in baseball and highly motivated to excel in it — he would love to make the Royals’ Major League roster — he has been learning not to take it too seriously. One of the major reasons for this transformation was a Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC) retreat he attended in November, in which he met and heard a talk by former Royals’ first baseman Mike Sweeney, currently a special assistant to the organization. Another reason for his transformation was a service trip he went on to the Dominican Republic in January, led by Jeff Suppan, also a former Royals player currently involved with the organization.
Pratto, only 19, spoke of his deeper appreciation for being Catholic and his continued desire to become the best baseball player he can be, in advance of the Kansas City Royals’ opening game of spring training Feb. 24 in Surprise, Arizona.
Were you surprised at being chosen by the Royals in last year’s MLB Draft?
I had spoken with people in their front office long before the draft, but I had also spoken with many other people in other front offices, too. I actually thought of other teams as being much more likely to choose me, but the Royals, to my pleasant surprise, were the team for me.
The day I was chosen, Mike Sweeney called to congratulate me. I was humbled and honored by that, since Mike is what being a Royal is all about. He was a great player and was also involved in the community to the point of being the public image of the team. On top of all that, we play the same position of first base, so he’s perfectly suited to give me advice in the future.
You also got to attend the Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat with Mike last fall, didn’t you?
Mike was there, along with Jeff Suppan — another great player who is currently involved in the Royals organization—and Mark Kotsay. It was humbling to meet these guys I had watched on TV. I had put baseball ahead of everything else, but here were these guys who had accomplished a lot more than I had, yet who knew God was far more important than anything they had done in baseball.
During the retreat I really thought about how I should have the same attitude and how putting God first doesn’t mean that you’re less of a man or that you can’t achieve great things in baseball. The retreat was a huge blessing for me, and I’m very thankful to Ray McKenna and Kevin O’Malley for having me there.
Did you get one of the popular Vin Scully Rosary CD albums?
They had a bunch of them at the retreat, but I didn’t get one in time. They ran out, so I’m going to have one sent or get a digital download. The Rosary has become my favorite devotion, so hearing Vin Scully lead it can only help all the more. It’s a super combination of baseball and prayer.
The Royals are one of the most Catholic organizations in the league. In addition to Sweeney and Suppan, there’s Toby Cook, Pedro Grifol, Cody Clark and Drew Butera. It seems like the team is the perfect fit for you.
My experience with the organization has been great so far, and two major reasons why are the Catholic men Mike and Jeff. The CAC retreat was eye-opening for learning more about God and living well in general, but also within the context of sports specifically. Mike spoke about keeping spiritual brotherhood alive by relying on a close friend who shares your beliefs and who will hold you accountable for living up to them.
Then Jeff led a trip with some minor league players to the Dominican Republic in January. It was in honor of Yordano Ventura, who was from that country. He was on the Royals’ World Series-winning team in 2015 and then died in a car accident in January 2017.
We did all kinds of things in the Dominican Republic over the course of 10 days. We painted and repaired houses, which were oftentimes shacks with very little protection from the weather. We visited the orphanage started by the Royals and played catch with the kids.
The trip was quite an experience, because it made poor people in our country look wealthy in comparison. It gives you a deeper appreciation for what MLB players from the Dominican Republic went through to get to where they are. It takes a lot of work for anyone to make the majors, but when you think of how kids growing up might not even have basic nutrition, it makes it all the more impressive that guys like Yordano Ventura and Robinson Cano — who is from a town near the one we were visiting — got to where they did.
Obviously you want to play well, but do you have a specific goal, such as to be in the majors for 20 years, win a World Series, or be a 10-time All-Star?
All of the above. I just want to keep playing and help my team to keep winning for as long as possible. I hate losing — whether the “loss” is a strikeout in an at-bat or the score of an entire game. I just love to compete well by having natural ability and hard work come together at the right time, which makes it possible to overcome obstacles and achieve great things with my team.
I probably have average to just a little above average natural ability, so my real strength is my mind. I thoroughly enjoy the competition of every at bat and I’m super-motivated to make the best of my ability. Every at bat — including in practice — is seen as the most important one I’ll be involved in. I don’t think that having hit a homerun at the previous at bat means I should take this one as a vacation; I want to be as productive as possible and get a hit, or at least get on base, every time up.
My dad played baseball in high school. After his playing days were over, he started learning more about the game and realized years later that if he had known in high school what he since learned, he would have been able to go a lot further in his playing career. By the time he had it together, though, it was too late for him to use personally, so he passed along his learning to me. I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of my dad. He was my Little League coach and is still my unofficial coach.
Do you have a favorite Catholic book or Bible verse?
My favorite Bible verse is easy; it’s Isaiah 40:31, about how they who hope in the Lord will renew strength and soar like the eagles. As humans, we’re very imperfect and in need of renewal and improvements. God is in need of nothing, so is always ready to give abundantly to anyone who asks, so that verse gives me hope.
Outside of the Bible, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite Catholic book yet, but I’m going to read a bunch of booklets from TAN Books/St. Benedict Press on prayer, the Mass, Confession, the Bible, the Stations of the Cross and other things. I’m learning more about being Catholic, and shorter books are probably the best way to go, although I’m going to look into a full-length one from the same publisher called Manual for Men.
Then there are tracts or radio shows from Catholic Answers, which has an answer to pretty much any basic question about Catholicism. Catholic Answers, TAN Books, CAC, Mike and Jeff are helping me to become a better Catholic and better baseball player. I’m nowhere near the top of my game in Catholicism or baseball, but I’m slowly getting to where I’d like to be.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous
Catholic sports interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.