Kevin Kramer: Pitt pitcher turned Scherzer look-alike


Courtesy of Kevin Kramer

Kevin Kramer, the Max Scherzer lookalike, was a pitcher on the Pitt baseball team during the 1990s.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

The Washington Nationals won their first MLB World Series in franchise history on Oct. 30, knocking off the Houston Astros in Game 7. They celebrated the accomplishment among thousands of fans on Nov. 2 in a parade ceremony that cruised through the main streets of our nation’s capital.

To the surprise and excitement of those in attendance, star pitcher Max Scherzer left his teammates and joined the crowd, where he was promptly mobbed for pictures, autographs and high fives. Entrenched by admirers, Scherzer required a police escort to make way for his escape. All the while, people snapped photographs and cheered him on.

Or so they thought.

The real Scherzer spent most of the parade dancing around with a commemorative WWE Championship belt atop the team bus. So who, then, was this indistinguishable imposter?

It was actually Kevin Kramer, a 45-year-old Arlington, Virginia, resident who happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to the three-time Cy Young Award winner. But before he rose to minor fame as Scherzer’s doppelganger, Kramer was an exceptional pitcher in his own right for the Pitt baseball team.

Like Scherzer, Kramer is a righty. But the similarities end there — Scherzer has made his name as a hard-throwing starter while Kramer was more of a junk-throwing middle reliever.

“When we were playing, we played at Trees Field. And the left field fence was really short,” Kramer said. “Unless you threw 90 [miles per hour] or above, it was tough to get guys out.”

Kramer relied instead on a steady diet of curveballs and changeups to keep batters at bay, using his fastball late in counts as an element of surprise. He pitched sparingly as a first-year player in 1993 but did enough to earn head coach Mark Jackson’s trust moving forward.

In Kramer’s junior season, Pitt squeaked into the Big East Tournament as the fourth and last seed. The Panthers faced long odds at success considering they were a combined 1-8 on the season against the other three teams — Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova.

After upsetting first-seed Providence in the first round, Pitt pulled off a remarkable comeback against Seton Hall in the second round, storming back from seven runs down in the ninth inning to win 11-10. The Panthers then met Providence again in the championship, losing the first game to set up a winner-take-all duel.

With Pitt’s top starters unavailable due to the quick succession of games, Jackson called on Kramer to pitch perhaps the most meaningful game in Pitt baseball history. It was a lot to ask from the junior reliever who had never pitched more than six innings and only started one game that season.

But Kramer came up clutch, pitching seven innings and scattering eight opposing hits in a 10-4 win over the Friars — Pitt baseball’s only conference tournament championship ever.

The May 24, 1995 edition of The Pitt News featured a photo of Kramer for his performance in the Big East Championship.

“I didn’t expect to do it, I don’t think anyone expected me to do it,” Kramer said in the ensuing 1995 edition of The Pitt News, “but I think I could have pitched the whole day. I was in a zone.”

After graduating from Pitt in 1996 with a degree in English writing, Kramer relocated to the Washington, D.C., area in 1997, where he has remained ever since.

His long-lost twin made his MLB debut in 2008, but it took awhile before people started making the connection. Scherzer’s profile increased as time passed, including a Cy Young Award in 2013, and the Nationals signed him in 2015. That was the year Kramer’s unique phenomena began, starting with a stranger in a grocery store approaching him as “Max.”

“He said he was in a wooden bat league and he wanted me to throw out the first pitch. And that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, this dude thinks I’m Max Scherzer,’” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not him,’ and he said ‘Oh, man, you look just like him. Maybe you could throw out the first pitch anyway.’”

Kramer was clean-shaven during that time and encountered sporadic confrontations through the years, but the effect really took off during the Nationals most recent postseason run when he let his facial hair grow out to match Scherzer’s scruff. He attended Games 3 and 4 of the NLCS at Nationals Park, where his presence in the stands drew attention from fans.

“We got to our section and it was like, everyone was wondering why Max Scherzer was sitting in the stands,” Kramer said. “And I would go get a beer or hot dog and people were swarming me for pictures and selfies.”

A sports reporter in attendance interviewed Kramer and published the story the next day, creating a snowball effect among D.C. media outlets. The local Fox station contacted Kramer for a bit to see just how much they could trick fans, telling him to meet them in public wearing Nationals gear, a baseball glove and one blue contact lens to mimic Scherzer’s heterochromia iridis.

The real Scherzer has a unique condition known as heterochromia iridis, meaning his eyes are two different colors.

Like the pied piper, Kramer drew a massive crowd that didn’t think twice about his true identity.

“There must have been a line of probably 50 to 100 people deep just waiting to take pictures and get autographs,” Kramer said. “But then we would tell them I’m not really Max Scherzer. We were not trying to really deceive people.”

He took the bit and ran with it, even creating an Instagram account with the handle @notmaxscherzer where he posts pictures with fellow Nationals fans.

Anticipating the reaction he would get at the Nationals’ victory parade, Kramer hired a videographer to follow him around. Sure enough, people thought that Scherzer had ditched his teammates to interact with his fans. The crowd around Kramer became so condensed that the security guards on duty had to step in.

“They saw that I was getting mobbed and that they needed to do crowd control,” Kramer said. “So they asked me, ‘Where do you want to go?’ and I just pointed. That was fun.”

Not everyone was fooled by Scherzer’s appearance — 17-year-old Nationals fan Eli Thomkins said he recognized Kramer as the look-alike from the news.

“I knew the real Max was still in the parade,” he said. “I can’t believe that many people didn’t realize it wasn’t him.”

Kris Bostwick, a 38-year-old D.C. local, was one of the many attendees who fell for the gag, though she said it was all in good fun.

“I completely thought it was Max,” she said. “Only after we got a picture together did I hear people saying it wasn’t the real guy. Oh well… he was super nice and it still made my day.”

The fanfare and misidentifications have settled down since the baseball season ended, Kramer says. Looking back on the whole experience, what he enjoyed the most — aside from the flattery of being constantly mistaken for someone 10 years his junior and two inches taller — is how it brought him a connection to hundreds of people whom he’d have otherwise never met.

“I probably have hundreds of pictures on my phone,” Kramer said, “of all these different people. Little kids, adults, old people, young people — so many different types of people. Everyone loves Max Scherzer. He’s like ‘the guy.’”

Kramer poses with some young fans in a post uploaded to his Instagram account, @notmaxscherzer.