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  • MICHAEL PIMENTEL / Golden Bear Sports

    Andrew Knapp bats for Cal.

  • Courtesy of Knapp family

    Andrew Knapp, far left, with his dad, Mike, mom, Julie, and brother Aaron in Tacoma in 1995 following his father's final game after 11 seasons in the minor leagues. Andrew was raised around baseball and ballparks, and his first minor-league game as a player will be Monday.

  • Courtesy of Knapp family

    Michael Pimentel Golden Bear Sports Andrew Knapp enjoys field time in Tacoma at age 5.

  • Andrew Knapp: He was the first college catcher drafted. Philadelphia chose him 53rd overall.

Granite Bay's Andrew Knapp benefits from his ballpark upbringing

Published: Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013 - 11:51 am

Before his family put down roots in Granite Bay, Andrew Knapp lived a vagabond lifestyle, one that prepared him for his new life as a professional baseball player.

The former Granite Bay High and Cal catcher was drafted in the second round, 53rd overall, last week by the Philadelphia Phillies and agreed to contract terms Thursday.

"When I retired (from baseball), when Andrew was 5, we figured he had been to 38 states," said Mike Knapp, Andrew's father, who now works at Intel. "We bounced around."

Mike Knapp played catcher for 11 minor-league seasons, traveling across the country and living in such locales as Omaha, Indianapolis, Rochester and Tacoma. Spring training was spent in Florida or Arizona.

Mike's wife, Julie, Andrew and younger brother Aaron (who will play at Cal next season) traveled city-to-city, team-to-team with Mike. So for Andrew's first five years, he spent most of his time in and around ballparks. Before and after games, Julie would hand Andrew over the fence to Mike so he could take batting practice or shag balls.

"I remember going to a ballpark every day," Andrew said. "We lived in a lot of different places, and I enjoyed every second of it. I got to hang out in the clubhouse with the players. They were really cool to me, super nice."

Spring training with the Kansas City Royals in Davenport, Fla., was particularly fun for Andrew. After practice, it would be off to Disney World in nearby Orlando.

"Minor-league baseball is well-suited for kids," Mike said. "On game days, we'd have all morning and early afternoon to play, fish, hit Wiffle balls. I look back and what a great experience it was, except that I missed both Andrew's and Aaron's first steps because I was on road trips."

Andrew earned his keep. He provided his father's teammates with plenty of comic relief.

"He had this amazing talent where he could imitate the mannerisms and (batting) stances of all the players," Mike said. "It was a real crackup."

Mike Knapp, who played at Mira Loma High, Sacramento City College and Cal, retired in 1997 at age 32 because it was time. He had a minor-league contract offer from the Montreal Expos, but Andrew was about to enter school. Mike never got an official major-league at-bat.

Despite his years playing baseball, Mike never forced the game on his kids. Andrew swam, played soccer and football.

"I didn't push it. I didn't say my kids were going to play baseball," Mike said. "For someone who has lived it, pro baseball isn't the easiest life. It's a grind traveling all over the place and playing so many games and trying to be as strong in September as you are in the spring. And you can't play this game if you don't have the passion or the drive."

Andrew had it – and then some.

Andrew, a natural right-hander, started switch hitting at age 12 and with a vision that it would help him later.

"It was pretty rough in the beginning," he said. "It took me over a year before it started to feel natural."

Playing shortstop as a youth, he switched to catcher his freshman year at Granite Bay, a move that surprised his father.

"I had nothing to do with that," Mike said. "I show up at his game and I'm scanning the field, and at first I don't see him out there. Then I see he's got the gear on."

Andrew said the team needed a catcher, "so I went back there, had some fun and stuck with it."

Andrew also stuck with his commitment to Cal, which dropped baseball early in his freshman year, only to reinstate it before the season. While his roommate transferred, Andrew wasn't going anywhere.

The baseball program was saved and the Bears stunned everyone by advancing to the College World Series.

"It was a roller-coaster year, but it worked out," he said. "It was a dream come true to be in a College World Series. Getting a chance to pinch hit in the final game was the cherry on top."

Knapp, who played first base and outfield earlier in his career at Cal, batted .350 this season with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in making the All-Pacific-12 Conference first team. He was the first college catcher taken in the draft and third overall.

Knapp, a lifetime Giants fan, was taken by surprise when the Phillies' Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning announced he was drafted by Philadelphia.

Knapp had just talked with the St. Louis Cardinals on the phone – the Phillies couldn't get through – who told him they planned to select him with the 57th pick.

"I'm thinking St. Louis, then, just like that, it's Philadelphia," Knapp said. "They hadn't contacted me before, so it came as a complete surprise."

When Mike drove his son to the airport Wednesday, he couldn't help but recall his own excitement after being drafted in the 15th round by the California Angels in 1986.

There was the pride and trepidation of leaving home for Mike Knapp, $1,500 bonus in hand, and heading off to his first minor-league stop in Salem, Ore.

Twenty-seven years later, Mike Knapp saw the same look of wonderment in is son's eyes.

"It was fantastic to see that excitement in his face and that, 'What am I getting into?' anxiety," Mike Knapp said. "I'm so proud of him. He's worked so hard, and he can do so much more than I ever did as a player. He has a tremendous future in front of him."

Andrew Knapp arrived Friday in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Phillies' short-season Class-A team, the Crosscutters, who begin the season Monday.

He's back taking his swings, throws and catches in minor-league ballparks. Only now he's a professional player instead of a child.

"Signing a pro contract has been my goal since Day One," said Andrew, who received just more than $1 million in a signing bonus. "I feel so blessed to have grown up around the game. … I owe a lot to my dad. He taught me everything I know about baseball."

Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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