Andrew Knapp, minor-league catcher's son, on cusp of big leagues
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mike Knapp went to sleep 28 years ago in a Tuscon, Ariz., hotel room thinking he had made it. The manager of the triple-A Edmonton Trappers pulled Knapp from their game and told him to return to the team's hotel and wait for a phone call. The California Angels suffered an injury to one of their catchers. The majors beckoned.
Knapp was 24. He was a long shot, a 15th-round pick by the Angels in his fourth minor-league season. He needed a break.
The next morning, his Trappers roommate broke the news. He had read it in the newspaper. The Angels called up John Orton, a first-round pick who played a level below Knapp.
"I was still kind of waiting for the phone call," Knapp said Monday. "That was a moment. That was probably the lowest moment of my career: OK, now what?"
He caught for seven more seasons. He never cracked the majors. He got married. He had two sons, Andrew and Aaron. He found a job in supply-chain management with Intel. He did not push his boys toward baseball.
But Andrew excelled. He followed his father's footsteps — first as a catcher, then to the University of California-Berkeley for college. The Phillies drafted him in the second round. And, after they jettisoned two veteran catchers in camp, Andrew Knapp is days from achieving a dream his father never could.
The Phillies did not anoint Knapp, 25, as their backup catcher. But barring an unforeseen transaction or injury, he will fill that role.
"It would be a dream come true," Knapp said.
No, it would be two dreams come true.
Long trip through minors
Andrew Knapp was 5 when Mike Knapp retired from baseball with 781 games played and 2,759 plate appearances in the minors. He does not remember much about his father's career. Mike played in Iowa, Omaha, Rochester, Indianapolis and Tacoma — and those were just the stops after Andrew was born.
"When I signed, my promise I made to myself was I was going to play as long as I felt competitive and had a chance to get to the big leagues," said Mike, 52. "That was the deal."
Every winter, the job offers arrived. But in 1996, when he batted .190 in 59 games for Seattle's triple-A affiliate, that was it.
"I didn't really ever have any regrets because I got to leave on my own terms," Mike said. "But I would be lying if I never thought, 'I can't believe I didn't get one day after all the different clubs I was with. Just one day. Couldn't I have gotten just one day?' "
That has always stuck in the back of Andrew's mind. It made father and son closer, especially as Andrew climbed the Phillies' system and edged toward his goal. Mike was a catcher speaking to another catcher.
"He's always been there for me and shared a lot of knowledge and experience with me," Andrew said. "I think that's why I have gotten to where I am today."
Back in the game
There was no bitterness, Mike Knapp said, toward the game when he retired. But he drifted from baseball. Raising his sons in Granite Bay, Calif., became the top priority in his life. As Andrew gained status in the minors as a prospect, Mike remembered what it was like when his own father took him to Giants games at Candlestick Park.
"That's been the surprise for me, how much fun I'm having getting back into the ballpark and just hanging around the guys," Mike said. "Just being at the ballpark, it really sparks how much I do love the game. The game never leaves you."
Ruben Amaro Jr., who drafted Andrew, was a former teammate of Mike Knapp's. So was Bob McClure, the Phillies' pitching coach. And Rick Kranitz, the Phillies' assistant pitching coach, was pitching coach with the Iowa Cubs when Mike was there. So the former catcher began to reconnect with old friends through his son's rise.
"If I do make the roster on opening day," Andrew said, "it's going to be huge for both of us."
Father and son often talked this spring about the bigger picture. Andrew pressed for the first few weeks. "You're going to hit," Mike told him. He had been in that position before, fighting for a job in camp. He knew failure. He knew what not to do.
"It's a great bond," Mike said. "It really is."
Andrew's future is unwritten. His place on a crowded 40-man roster helped his chances this spring. The Phillies released Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan. They have a current starter in Cameron Rupp and a catcher of the future in Jorge Alfaro, but Andrew Knapp could carve a spot in the majors.
"Any exposure to the big-league scene," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, "is very valuable toward anybody's development."
If Andrew is there next week, on the third-base line for introductions at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Mike will be in the stands. His son is a year older than he was when he experienced the lowest moment of his career. He has a difficult time believing it all.
"To see his dream come true is better than if I would have made it," Mike Knapp said. "It's your son. You just wish the best for him. It's hard to even put into words."