Catcher Andrew Knapp had a nomadic upbringing, but he’s looking for a home in Detroit

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Up until last year, Andrew Knapp enjoyed a fairly stable baseball life. He’d spent the first eight seasons catching for one organization — the Phillies. Drafted in 2013, he debuted in 2017 and was J.T. Realmuto’s back-up catcher from 2019-2021.

Then the safety net broke.

“I had such a crazy year,” said the 31-year-old Knapp, whom the Tigers have invited to big-league camp this spring. “Four organizations. I had a million teammates — which was fun. It was a new experience for me, for sure.”

The Phillies set him free in November of 2021. He signed with the Reds, but was released right before the start of the season. He spent a couple of months with the Pirates and a couple of months with the Mariners before signing on with the Giants on July 22, finishing the season at Triple-A Sacramento.

Crazy. But maybe not so much for Knapp. As the legend goes, Knapp had traveled through 38 states and lived in six by the time he was 5 years old. Such is the life of the son of a minor-league catcher.

“The baseball lifestyle comes pretty easy to me and my family,” he said. “I think part of my dad’s experience allows me to understand my role a little better.”

Mike Knapp was halfway through a nomadic 10-year minor-league career when Andrew was born in 1991. He’d already played in Salem, Oregon; Davenport, Iowa; Midland, Texas; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. With young Andrew in tow, he then moved on to Charlotte, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Rochester, New York; Indianapolis; Adelanto, California; and Tacoma, Washington, before calling it a career.

Ten seasons (1986-1996) total, seven in Triple A, with six different organizations (Angels, White Sox, Royals, Reds, Orioles and Mariners) and not one single cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“My dad has no bitterness toward the game at all,” Andrew said. “Which I think has had a huge impact on me. He could easily have been upset and bitter to not even get an opportunity. But, no.”

Mike got to live out his big-league dream vicariously through his son on April 6, 2017, when Andrew debuted against one of his old organizations, the Reds.

“Yeah, that was pretty cool for my family and for him to see all the work we put in finally come to fruition,” Andrew said. “It was really, really cool.”

Mike was there to lift Andrew up out of the mire last season. Knapp was designated for assignment by the Mariners right before the All-Star break and he did what he used to do when he was younger — go home and hit it around with his Pops.

“I ended up being home for like 10 days,” Andrew said. “We went out to my high school field (Granite Bay, California) and hit. We went back to what we were doing when I was little and it actually helped my swing quite a bit.”

Between the Pirates and Mariners, Knapp had gotten only 39 plate appearances. It was a wonder he could even remember how to swing a bat.

“You’re just trying to survive at the plate because of the timing and stuff,” he said. “I kind of got away from what I used to do when I was playing every day in the minor leagues. So I went back to it and I feel like it helped more in that role than I thought it would.”

With his father’s help, he got back to a more athletic stance, less crouch, not as spread out, more vertical in the box. In short, he was able to regain his natural swing.

The results came immediately. He was signed by the Giants after the break and from July 23 through Aug. 30 slashed .312/.373/.634 with eight home runs at Triple-A Sacramento.

That earned him a call-up to the Giants. And, in a roundabout way, to a minor-league deal and camp invite with the Tigers. Tigers president Scott Harris was part of the Giants front office that signed Knapp last July.

“I really do think I am getting better, which is encouraging,” Knapp said. “I’m in my 30s now and that’s all you can ask for. I feel like I’m getting more in touch with my body. I feel stronger than I have in years past and I finally got some consistent at-bats which helped a ton.

“I am excited for this year. I think I have a great opportunity to make the club and help this team.”

Knapp is one of five non-roster players in camp behind Eric Haase, Jake Rogers and Donny Sands. Knapp has caught just three fewer games in the big leagues (241) than the other three combined (244).

“I love the game and I really enjoy the team aspect, trying to get guys better,” he said. “Handling pitchers and that stuff comes easy to me. Once you figure out a pitcher’s personality, it’s easy to handle the in-game stuff. You find out what makes guys tick.”

As much as he was brought in to compete for a spot, the Tigers knew he would be a valuable mentor to young catchers like Sands, Dillon Dingler and Josh Crouch. It’s not a stretch to say he’s a manager in training.

“Once you have that knowledge of the game, like just talking to AJ (Hinch, Tigers’ manager), I totally see that catching mindset as being like a manager,” Knapp said. “You just start to file away information. I could see myself in the future doing something like that. But I am not looking at that yet.

“I’m still in player mode.”

Hinch, though, said Knapp was not brought in here to be Crash Davis.

“He is here to compete for a job and try to make our team,” he said. “He’s not here to influence others as much as to showcase himself. The other stuff is extra. … I never give up on anybody who is making adjustments and is starting to see the performance spikes. That’s always a good thing.

“But we just want guys to offer something that we either don’t have or who can help us win. We’ve brought in a lot of options, but there is no substitute for that experience.”

Something to think about. In his age-30 season in 2019, Travis d’Arnaud was bounced around from four different organizations before something clicked and he ended up making the All-Star team last season. Catchers sometimes bloom late.

“Travis is one of those stories that keeps guys playing,” Knapp said. “He was designated, bounced around and then he found a home in Atlanta. Earlier in my career I was just trying to stay in the big leagues and then I kind of slid myself in as a backup guy.

“I just want to keep going and keep getting opportunities.”

With eight catchers in camp, divvying up playing time is going to be tricky. But you won’t hear Knapp complain about it. Been there, done that. Realmuto played 326 of 374 games the three years Knapp backed him up.

He’ll just keep himself ready, like he always has.

“I don’t have any regrets on my career,” he said. “This is the way it was supposed to be. I believe in stuff like that. I believe everything happens for a reason. And I feel like I’m still getting better and I’m still excited to be playing baseball.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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