When Indianapolis native John Kremer spent two summers in Quincy as a pitcher for the Quincy Gems in the Central Illinois Collegiate League, he had dreams of eventually playing professional baseball.
Now 20 years later, Kremer is very involved in professional baseball, but he never made it as a player. He is the director of performance science for the New York Yankees. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Julie, and their kids, McKenzie, 10, and Cannon, 7.
Kremer attended the University of Evansville, and he pitched for the Gems in 1997 and 1998. He had a 2.84 earned run average and a 4-0 record with 21 strikeouts in 25 innings in 1997, and he followed that with a 2.16 earned run average and 46 strikeouts in 25 innings in 1998.
He was drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in the 38th round in 1995, and he was drafted after his junior year at Evansville by the Baltimore Orioles in the 13th round in 1998. He opted to finish his college career, and he signed a pro contract after he was drafted by the Yankees in the 19th round in 1999.
So explain what the director of performance science does.
My main role is to head up how we quantify areas that pertain to physiology, biomechanics, anatomy, vision and perception, and how that relates to performance on the field. It's all about relating human aspects to performance.
How did you get into that line of work?
My background was as a player, then in amateur scouting and player development. I had a pretty good understanding of the on-field side and where analytics were headed. Analytics had already taken hold in baseball and was firmly embedded in Yankees' culture and decision making, so the next level is the human aspect. They put me in charge of that. I don't have a background in it. It was learning what was needed in terms of technology and staff and how it fits into our culture. We have experts with PhDs in exercise science and biomechanics, strength and conditioning. We have dieticians and analysts.
Did you major in that type of work in college?
Not really. My undergrad degree was in math. I always had an interest in numbers, and my dad was a psychologist. Understanding numbers to a deeper level and as to why they work is a fascination of mine. Did I know it would lead to this role? No, but I'm glad it did. As a player, maybe one reason why my career ended is that I didn't have tunnel vision on the big leagues. On some level, I've always had an interest in stats, but the application is different now.
Had you ever heard of Quincy before you came here?
I had heard of Quincy. It was in the same the league as Southern Indiana, so I knew of it. Those are two of the best summers of my life. I just had a great time. I met a bunch of great guys there. I still keep in touch with my host family, Jim and Marty Rubottom. I'll get an e-mail or a Christmas card, and they'll keep me updated on how the family and how their kids are doing.
What was it like to be on the road away from home for two summers?
You sort of get used to it. I was at the beginning of the travel ball circuit when I was playing. I was used to staying in hotels. My parents didn't always get to go to every game, so I was often staying with another family. You get used to that. My first summer in Quincy, there were six of us living in a house. It was better the second summer with the Rubottoms. The second year, we all went to the host families. It was nice to get some hot meals and have responsible people looking after you. You get kind of accustomed to living like you're at home.
How good were those Gems teams you were on?
We had some really good players back then. We had a lot of SEC (Southeastern Conference) guys, people from Mississippi and places like that. I thought it was a pretty good league.
You were the closer for the Gems. How good were you?
I threw in the low 90s. I did OK. One of those years (in Quincy), I actually had been drafted in the spring (by the Orioles after his junior year), and their scout would come and watch me. They gave me an offer to sign, but I was worried that if classes started getting really hard, and if I had too much school left, like two or three semesters, I was going to have to figure out how to do some of those upper level math classes. The odds weren't good that I would go back to school if I signed, so I never signed. They watched, but (signing) never materialized.
You signed with the Yankees in 1999, and your minor-league career ended in 2003. How was your experience?
It's a lot harder than you would think. I didn't realize it, but it's even harder for the kids from Latin America. For us American kids, most of us are not getting paid much. It's six guys to an apartment. You get meal money on the road, and you're just playing baseball. You're dumb and young, and you don't know any better. It's a blast. The short-season rookie league after you sign is a cakewalk, but the next year, the first full season, you just don't realize how long the season can be. But that's what you'd rather do. We all loved to play.
How did the career end for you? Were you prepared for life after baseball?
I got released in 2003, a couple days before Christmas. I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought about playing independent ball, and Mark Newman, our senior vice president for baseball operations, called me out of the blue and thought I might be interested in working out of the scouting office. He said they would give me a year-long temporary internship. He was a great mentor. Damon Oppenheimer was our scouting director, and I became his assistant.
So how did you progress through the organization?
I was the assistant pro scouting director for quite a few years, then I became the director of player personnel in 2013 and I did that for three years. I got the job I have now in 2016. That's when Cash (Yankees general manager Brian Cashman) reorganized things.
Does it make you laugh when you think to yourself, "I'm working for the New York Yankees"?
It's a pinch-me moment, for sure. Sometimes, you're young, and you don't know any better, but I was thrilled at the opportunity that someone would think highly of me. My original intent was to play independent ball, but when you get an offer like that ... I had just read "Moneyball," and I know that maybe with the development and growth of analytics, maybe I could carve out a role. I'm really lucky and thrilled to have an opportunity like this.
What is a typical day like in your job?
Those days can range. We're trying to figure where we are in multiple projects. I'm either working on one of those projects, like we have a project right now at one of our stadiums, or we're checking up on the folks who are working with me. I have a vision where we have to go in a certain area, as directed by Brian Cashman, and it's a lot of checking up on that. What are we doing? Is that aligned with what we're supposed to be doing?
How often do you have to go to New York and report to Cashman?
The last couple of years, I go up there about once a month. Our department assists other departments, and we want to make sure that whatever we're doing is helping these guys realize their dreams of playing in the major leagues. At the very simple core of what we do, I want to work with each player individually and get the most out of their potential.
Your wife also works for the Yankees. How did you meet?
We started dating my junior year. It was her sophomore year. Better check on that. She might get upset with me. She was up there in Quincy, too. Her role now is director of the fantasy camps. We have two men's camps, a women's camp, a father-son camp and a summer championship series. This year, she just got a new role as the director of business development. She's going to have additional marketing and promotional responsibilities. Steinbrenner Field (in Tampa) is a remarkable facility. They just did an expansion in 2017.
Here's your chance to drop some names. Who are some of the players you've met at the fantasy camps?
You get guys like Mickey Rivers, David Wells, Ron Blomberg. Jorge Posada's wife was at the women's camp, and he would come along. I can't even go trough all the names now. Some of the more recent guys are showing more of an interest in being part of the camps. Some of them, when they get off the field, they've already made a lot of money, so this might not be as appealing to them, but the further they get away from the field, the more they want to get back.
Who's the Yankee you've met who made you forget your job and act like a fan?
I've been fortunate to have a lot of in-depth conversations with Reggie Jackson. Reggie's a really smart and thoughtful guy. We've had deep conversations about hitting. He's been one who I've kind of connected with, just having enjoyable conversations about the game that are on a level that I want to understand, and I'm also getting the insight of a guy who has stood in the box and done things like he's done. It's partly selfish. You have to kick yourself. I'm sitting there and talking to Reggie Jackson.
What are your goals? Do you want to be a general manager?
I have zero aspirations to be a general manager. My aspiration? Well, the Yankees have been good to me and my wife. It's the greatest organization in sports in the world. To work for a family like the Steinbrenners, my hope is simply do a good enough job to keep pushing forward with my job.