A baseball player follows through on his swing
Cam Cratic and the Missouri State baseball Bears play their final home games of the season, playing host to Indiana State at Hammons Field. Game times are 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

Cam Cratic hasn’t played college baseball forever, it just seems that way. The Missouri State graduate student is in his third season with the Bears after three seasons at Madison College in his native Wisconsin.

The disclaimer here is that Cratic was injured one of his juco seasons and another was shut down due to the pandemic, leaving his athletic and academic destinations uncertain.

“I played just three games during the COVID year before our season was canceled,” Cratic said. “It kind of left me with no options in March, April and May. I waited around, looking for places to go.”

Finally, his juco coach put him in touch with Missouri State and the Bears offered him a spot in July of 2020, which was like the bottom of the ninth inning in the recruiting game.

“I signed without even visiting here,” Cratic said. “I took a chance and they took a chance on me and I’m really grateful for that.”

Missouri State playing for a share of Missouri Valley Conference title

Cratic’s career is winding down, with this weekend’s series against Indiana State his final scheduled games at Hammons Field. The Bears trail the visiting Sycamores by three games and can grab a share of the Missouri Valley Conference championship with a sweep of 6:30 p.m. games Thursday and Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday.

Missouri State (31-18 overall, 18-6 in the Valley) already has clinched no worse than a No. 2 seed for next week’s conference tournament at Indiana State. The tourney winner will move on to the NCAA Tournament and, for Cratic and the Bears, that is the ultimate goal.

“That is what you play for,” Cratic said. “Hopefully, we have a lot more baseball to play.”

Cratic’s hot bat has aided surging Bears

For Missouri State to even be in a position to talk championships is rather remarkable considering they opened Valley play 0-3 in late March and were a .500 team in early April. But the Bears have gone 16-4 overall since April 7 and Cratic has been a key part of the surge with his hot bat.

The left-handed swinging designated hitter and outfielder leads the Missouri Valley Conference with a .455 batting average in league games and sits at .321 with six home runs and 21 RBI for the full season. He’s hitting .446 with 14 RBIs over his last 18 games after returning from a pulled groin muscle. 

Cratic said he was pressing a bit early in the season, perhaps trying too hard to make the most of his final college season. 

“Then I wound up getting injured and was out for about two weeks,” he said. 

But the injury turned into a positive turning point. Cratic said it gave him an opportunity to clear his mind while getting healthy.

“That gave me a nice reset,” he said. “Just take my mind off baseball, be a good teammate and enjoy my last year with the guys. Once I came back, I really wanted to enjoy it and have fun.”

Becoming a well-rounded hitter

Cratic’s hot hitting is no surprise to Bears coach Keith Guttin, who said Cratic always has been dependable with the bat when healthy. Cratic has a career .304 batting average with the Bears in 120 games.

“From the time he arrived here, he hit consistently,” Guttin said. “Leg issues have kind of limited his time in the outfield, but he’s been a very consistent producer whenever he’s hit in that DH spot or when he has played in the outfield.”

Cratic said he’s evolved as a hitter during his time with the Bears, beginning as a contact-type of hitter who depended on his speed to more of a hard-hitting type under the guidance of associate head coach Joey Hawkins.

“Joey came in and emphasized bat speed and applying pressure,” Cratic said. “These last two years I’ve had a little bit of a power increase while still being able to put the ball in play with two strikes and stuff like that.

“I just feel like I’ve become more of a well-rounded hitter.”

While he misses playing in the field, Cratic said he tries to contribute to the team in more ways than just as a hitter. 

“It’s easy to get caught up in, ‘You’re the DH, the only way you can help the team is by hitting.’ But it’s important that you impact the game in other ways,” Cratic said. “I’m on the bench trying to be a good teammate and trying to make plays on the bases as well.” 

Added Guttin: “He’s always doing something between at-bats to stay loose. He’s a confident guy and he understands what it takes for him to be successful. He’s been a really good player and teammate since he’s been here.”

A baseball player swings his bat
Cam Cratic has made the most of the second half of his final college season, helping the Bears turn their season around with a Missouri Valley Conference-best .455 batting average in league games. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

Cratic is a heavy hitter in the classroom, too

Cratic also is an academic all-star. On Tuesday, he became Missouri State’s first two-time Academic All-District selection since Alex Jefferson in 2016 and 2017. Cratic has a 4.0 cumulative grade point average in the sports management master’s program, a year after being named MSU’s Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year as the graduating student-athlete with the highest GPA.

Cratic said both his parents are educators and academics always were a priority if he wanted to play sports. 

“It makes my parents happy,” Cratic said of the sparkling grades. “It’s a standard that I hold myself to as well.”

Post-playing plans include staying around athletics

Cratic would love a shot at playing professional baseball, but understands that his playing days could come to an end when the Bears’ season concludes. He has a plan in place if that happens to stay involved in athletics at the school.

“It’s always been the goal to keep playing baseball for as long as possible,” Cratic said. “If that’s not possible, I do have something lined up in the athletic department where I can come back and potentially be a grad assistant for the academic advisors and finish my master’s. I hope to continue to work in sports and in an athletic department.”

But the idea of his lengthy college playing career actually ending is not something he’s focusing on.

“My goal from day one this year was to enjoy it and have fun,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for six years and it’s all I’ve known to this point. Hopefully, we have a lot more baseball to play.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton