When the baseball calendar hits a fever pitch, chances are the voice guiding you through the games is none other than Naples’ own John Kruk, an ESPN commentator for nearly a decade on Baseball Tonight and a three-time All-Star first baseman with the Phillies, Padres and White Sox. Known for his humor (and calling it like it is), Kruk travels to stadiums across the country each Sunday throughout the regular season, but the majority of the year he’s a proud resident of Collier County. He tirelessly gives time to local causes, most notably Seacrest Country Day School (Kyle, 11, and Keira, 8, children with wife, Melissa, attend). Aside from helping with fundraisers—last year alone, his and others’ efforts brought in enough to pay for the construction of a softball field on the academy’s campus—he will often stop by gym classes on the fly to coach the kids. An accidental star who didn’t grow up thinking he was destined to excel in the big leagues, Kruk wasn’t even planning on playing ball in college until a team recruited him.
What brought you to Naples?
Before our son was born we used to come to Clearwater for a month every year, where the Philly’s have spring training. But once he started school up north it was really hard to get him out for a month, so we had to downsize it to two weeks.
One year we were in Clearwater and my in-laws drove down here. They were probably here for a few hours before they called and said we had to come down and see this place. So we went down, got a room at the Inn on Fifth and stayed for two days. Fell in love with it. Came back the next five years for vacation every February.
What prompted the move?
A few years ago we had a terrible winter and I had to shovel all this snow. I didn’t have a snow blower and the snow was so high…I had to shovel it two or three times, and that’s not my thing. So I went in the house and said I can’t take this anymore.
Since I was 18, I have not been home for the summer because of baseball…when my kids are out of school, I’m gone because of baseball. So I said we have to figure out a way for me to get a summer some time. We put our house up for sale in New Jersey, and you know how the market was a couple of years ago—it was terrible. But we said if we sell it that means it’s a sign for us to move. It sold within two days, so we said OK, that’s a sign for us to move down here.
Do you believe in fate?
Yes, I guess I do. Everything happens for a reason. My mom told me once that when I was in the fifth grade, someone asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to be a baseball player! The strange part is that I never even watched games on television except for the World Series, and when I was drafted by the San Diego Padres, I seriously did not know there was a team called the Padres.
You are outspoken about your belief that children face too much pressure too soon. Any advice?
My brothers and I played sports growing up because we loved to. I coach my daughter’s two softball teams, and I still get excited at games. I tell both my kids to not make Little League their number one priority. I’ve heard horror stories from around the state that parents force kids to focus on baseball and give up other sports. I think that’s the biggest crime. Believe me, playing other sports makes you a better athlete, period.
What are your guilty pleasures?
I like ice cream. But really, golf. I belong to Hideout, and I’ve gone crazy with trying to find the right clubs and perfecting my swing. It has become an obsession.
Do you have a favorite sport?
Softball. The girls who play it do so for the love of the game. There are no multimillion-dollar contracts and endorsement deals waiting for them. Because we built the field at Seacrest last year, the coach has said more girls are expressing interest. We’re hoping to set up clinics in November that will be open to the public with two Olympic softball players. Stay tuned.
Photo by Mila Bridger