Monday, March 4, 2013

Andrew Knapp...and the Two-Minute Drill

Baseball is in Andrew Knapp’s blood. He’s been around it all his life.

Andrew in last year's game against
Stanford. Photo by Michael Pimentel,

He kids that he was a suitcase baby, moving around and living in hotels until he was five years old. That’s when his dad, Mike, retired from baseball.
Mike spent 11 seasons catching in the minors, seven of them in AAA. He was drafted by the California Angels and finished with the Seattle Mariners, playing in numerous cities along the way including Midland, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Andrew hopes to continue to follow in his dad’s footsteps. He already plays the same position, catcher. He attends Cal, just like his dad. The next step is being drafted, but for right now he is focused on the season and his team.

Andrew, a junior, was named first-team Preseason All-American by Baseball America. The last Cal Bear to receive this honor was Brett Jackson in 2009. Brett is with the Chicago Cubs and is slated to start in AAA this season.
Andrew has spent his last two summers playing the game he loves. In the summer of 2011 he led the Northwoods League in hitting with .500 and drove in 33 runs. And, last summer he played in the prestigious Cape Cod League for the Chatham Anglers. In 40 games, he batted .293 with 13 doubles, 8 home runs, and 29 runs batted in.

In the season opener he hit the game winner—a bases-loaded single up the middle to defeat Michigan 5-4 in extra innings.
In game two of the series he hit a two-run homer to left field.
And, on Sunday, March 3, against Houston he went 4-for-5 with a double, home run, and three RBI.
I sat down with Andrew recently and he shared his story.

PJ: Your dad played baseball at Cal. Was this the only college you wanted to attend?
Andrew: My dad played catcher here in 1985, 1986. He transferred from Sacramento City. Growing up I went to a lot of Cal baseball and football games. I never saw myself wanting to go anywhere else. Through high school I was not highly recruited. So, I started looking at other places a little. But, in my junior year I played good…hit around .500 and got an incredible offer from Cal. It’s the school I always wanted. My dad’s dad went to Cal; my brother is coming next year. It’s in my family.

PJ: How long have you been playing catcher?
Andrew: Since my freshman year in high school. When Devon (Rodriguez) went down last year, I played first base and outfield. I was behind Chadd (Krist, all Pac-12 catcher who holds Cal’s all-time doubles record with 65 and was selected by the Cubs in the ninth round of the 2012 draft), a four-year starter. I learned from watching him. It’s where I am most comfortable and where I will thrive later in baseball. One of the things I take pride in is my handling of the staff. I have guys who want to pitch to me and enjoy throwing to me. We have chemistry and they trust me. With me back there they have more confidence in their pitches and have faith that I will catch and block them.

PJ: Last year was tough…losing one of your key players in Devon Rodriguez. What was it like facing this challenge?
Andrew: When Devon went down, we lost a huge part of our team. He’s a team leader on and off the field, definitely. It was a big blow to us, but it’s not like this team hasn’t dealt with adversity. It took a full team effort last year. That experience and what we learned from it will help us this year. Playing in different positions and now being back in our regular positions just gives us a different perspective. And, with Devon back we will be that much better.

PJ: Tell me a little more about the adjustment you had to make to play other positions last year.
Andrew: It was tough as I never really played first base. I like to see myself as an athletic guy…just knowing how to play, where to throw the ball. I was out early before every practice and every game taking ground balls and fly balls under the lights. I had to fill a big spot with Devon gone. I was just trying to fill some of the void.

I have more confidence and am a much better catcher now. Now we have a catcher being a catcher, a first baseman being a first baseman. Last year was a stretch and there was always that little question of is this going to work? Is he really a shortstop if he’s never played shortstop?

PJ: What are your goals for this season?
Andrew: If the team has a good season, I have a good season. We need to get back into the playoffs and win the Pac-12 championship. We have the hardest conference in the nation. If you end up on top you have a good chance going to the College World Series. I want to be a leader on and off the field. Whatever it takes for the team to succeed is what I’m going to do.

PJ: When did you decide to become a switch hitter?
Andrew: My dad was a right handed hitter in the minors and was told that he would have gone further if he had been a switch hitter. So, it was my mom who turned me around and told me to hit left handed. In little league I hit right handed, but when I was 13 I made the change. Now it’s 100% natural and it even feels more natural left-handed. It took two to three years to get good. It takes a lot of commitment to stick with hitting left handed. I have to hand it to my dad because he kept me going.

PJ: What are your overall baseball goals?
Andrew: I would like to pursue a professional career. I am always getting better. I’m going to ride it as long as I can. Going to Cal I am getting a good education and will earn my degree. I will end up in baseball no matter what, even if it’s on the business side. Baseball is my life now and in the future.