April 29, 2013
BERKELEY - By Scott Ball (This feature appears in the Spring 2013 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly)
For Andrew Knapp, the Golden Bears' first-team preseason All-American catcher, Cal baseball is truly a family affair.
Sure, Knapp considers all his teammates his brothers and his coaches like family, but the Blue and Gold runs deeper in his blood than the average Golden Bear. The list starts with grandparents Ray and Arlene Knapp, who both attended the University and were member of the class of 1957, and goes through his father, Mike, a standout catcher for Cal in the mid-'80s, and now his younger brother, Aaron, who will be joining David Esquer's squad in the fall of 2013.
"When we were recruiting Andrew, we knew that his family had a great affection for the University," Esquer said. "We knew this is where he wanted to be and where his heart was."
From all indications, this spring is aligning itself nicely for Andrew Knapp to enjoy his finest season of the three years he has called Evans Diamond his baseball home, starting with the game-winning hit in the season-opener versus Michigan. The Granite Bay, Calif., native entered his junior campaign listed among the nation's top players as one of the preseason players to watch for USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award given to the country's top collegiate player.
All this is pretty heady stuff for a player who entered his junior season with a career batting average of .253, but the accolades are not a fluke. The talented switch-hitting catcher has thrived among the country's elite during the past two summers - first in the Northwoods League, where he was the league's top hitter in 2011, and then last summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he batted .293 with 13 doubles, eight home runs and 29 RBI in 40 games for Chatham (Mass.), opening the eyes of nearly every Major League scout.
Part of the saga of Knapp's career at Cal has been that he has played behind all-conference catcher Chadd Krist, a 2012 ninth-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs. However, Knapp was too talented to sit on the bench and has seen action in both the outfield and at first base for the Bears over his first two years with the program.
"Andrew has always been next in line to be our catcher," Esquer said. "But he was so talented, he didn't have to wait. Andrew was unique as a catcher in that he was such a good athlete he had the ability to play other positions, and we knew having him play other positions would only help him down the line. Now, he is finally getting a chance to be our fulltime catcher, and we expect him to have an outstanding season, go high in the draft and someday join our list of over 50 Cal Major Leaguers."
Coming to Cal to play baseball had been a dream of Knapp's since he was young enough to play catch with his father Mike and listen to his dad's adventures of being the starting catcher on coach Bob Milano's squad in 1985 and 1986.
"I started coming to Cal baseball games at Evans Diamond when I was about seven," Knapp said. "I remember watching future big leaguers like Brett Jackson and Tyson Ross as a teenager and picturing myself playing for Cal someday."
"It was a great day for me and my family when Andrew decided to make Cal his home," Mike Knapp explained. "Cal is a big part of my family's life and to have my son attend such a tremendous university is truly a blessing. Not only is it awesome to see my son play on the same field I played on, but also for my parents to be able to see Andrew play on the same field that they watched me play is very special. It was interesting during the recruiting process. I tried really hard not to push Cal too hard because I wanted Andrew to make his own decision. I have to say I could not see myself wearing anything but the Blue and Gold."
Not far into his freshman year, Andrew's life-long dream started to unravel with the September 2010 announcement that Cal baseball was going to be discontinued following the 2011 season due to pressure on the athletic department's budget.
It was a crushing blow to Knapp, whose photo was featured on the front of the San Francisco Chronicle's sports page sitting in the Evans Diamond dugout dejected and wondering how his college baseball career would unfold.
The successful reinstatement of baseball and the ensuing trip to the College World Series is well known in Cal circles. What many people may not realize is that Knapp, in his first day of baseball as a Golden Bear, knocked in the game-winning RBI to capture a 6-5 victory over Utah in the second game of a season-opening doubleheader.
Knapp contributions to that magical 2011 season - besides playing in 29 games and starting 15 contests with three doubles, a home run and 15 RBI - was teaming up with fellow freshmen Eric Walbridge and Derek Campbell to create the "Save Cal Baseball" rap video that became an internet sensation and expressed the plight of the Cal baseball program in a humorous and creative manner.
"The video came about when Eric, Derek and I were bored in our dorm room and decided to make a video," said Knapp. "It ended up being much more popular than we had intended. We were trying to make a joke out of the situation, but I think that it ultimately ended up giving our situation media coverage and helping raise some money for reinstating the program."
Now fast forward to the 2013 Cal baseball season where Knapp is one of the veterans of the team and is looking to lead the Bears back to the College World Series. He is also projected to be a high pick in the June Major League Draft with the opportunity to someday play with alongside his childhood Cal heroes - Ross and Jackson.
"It has been an awesome experience playing baseball at Cal," said Knapp. "You go through a lot of adversity when your program gets cut and you get to see what kind of character you have as a person and as a player. I think I have gained so much experience from that. I think when you are at Cal, you don't get stuff handed to you. One reason we have had so many Big Leaguers is that the school really teaches guys how to work for themselves."