Wednesday, May 23, 2012

FGCU's Ricky Knapp Aims the Eagles at Another Championship

A-Sun Pitcher of the Year Ricky Knapp
Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year Ricky Knapp has been around baseball his entire life. 

His father, Rick, made his career in baseball. The elder Knapp played for Virginia Tech and was selected in the 41st round of the 1983 Major League Baseball Draft. He then pitched five seasons in the Minor Leagues for the Texas Rangers organization, and has served as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Minnesota Twins, the pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers, and is currently the minor league pitching coordinator for the Kansas City Royals

What began as just a good time being at the ballpark with Dad and around players and coaches eventually would come to serve as a tremendous benefit for Ricky.

“At first it was all about just being around him, plus the atmosphere was fun to be around as a kid,” says Knapp. “His job is to be a coach’s coach, to figure out how to best develop the players he is working with and get them to the major leagues as quickly as possible.

“As I got older I started picking up on what he would tell them. I learned about the mental approach to the game, particularly as a pitcher, and how to develop your plan of attack. I learned so much about the importance of keeping yourself composed. If you can do that at that level, you have a good shot of staying around. As a pitcher, there is only so much that you can control – and mainly it is yourself.

“How you react to situations, keeping to your plan, approaching the next pitch, adjusting to what comes your way – those are all components to success as a pitcher. It definitely made a difference in my development.”

A sophomore from Port Charlotte, Fla., Knapp posted the best ERA in the A-Sun (2.12) and earned eight wins on the season, which ranks second in the A-Sun. His three complete-game shutouts topped the conference, while his 106.1 innings pitched was second best. Knapp enters the A-Sun Championship with FGCU as the four-seed and a .243 opposing batting average - eighth best in the conference.

Knapp has already etched his name in the FGCU record books in just his second year on campus. He becomes the third FGCU pitcher in just its fifth season as a member of the A-Sun to earn Pitcher of the Year honors, joining 2008 honoree Richard Bleier and 2010 Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year and current Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale.

Comparing sophomore seasons with Sale, Knapp finished the regular season with an 8-4 record through 14 appearances, including 13 starts, owning a 2.12 ERA in 106.1 innings of work with a .243 opponent batting average. On the flip side, Sale finished with a 7-4 record through 14 appearances, including 12 starts, holding a 2.72 ERA in 89.1 innings pitched with a .246 opponent batting average. Additionally, Knapp passed Sale’s single-season record for innings pitched (103.0) which he set in the 2010 campaign. 

As you would expect from the son of a coach, Knapp attributes his hard work prior to the season to his accomplishments. He says that while he put in the physical preparation as well, sharpening his mental game is what he believes led him to a successful season and postseason honors.

“Everything that I was able to accomplish this spring started long before the season began. I had a good summer working on pitches and locations, and that carried over into the fall. During the season there really wasn’t a time when things ‘clicked,’ it was more of being consistent.

“I had a good start against Miami, and from there I was really able to execute every game, not worry about overpowering hitters but preparing for them, preparing for each start and then remembering the successes and repeat what I did.”

Knapp is also the third Eagle in program history to earn a unanimous first team selection, and becomes the 13th FGCU selection all-time to earn a first team nod. The two-time A-Sun Pitcher of the Week leads the A-Sun and is 42nd nationally in overall ERA, leads in A-Sun-only ERA (1.56), and is second in conference in innings pitched and wins.

Also among the league’s top 10 in opponent batting average, Knapp has started the first game of all nine A-Sun series, and also set an FGCU single-season record with three shutouts and a D-1 program record with four complete games. This season marks the second time in which Knapp has earned league recognition, following his All-Freshmen team honor last year.

Knapp chose FGCU for several reasons. Being a Port Charlotte native, the school was less than an hour from home. Plus, at this time his Dad was with the Tigers so being in Fort Myers also meant that he was closer to him during spring training as well. Plus, FGCU was, as Ricky puts it, “playing good ball, and winning a lot of games.” Last but not least, the school had his major of choice – civil engineering – so FGCU became a lock.

Given the Eagles’ success in the last few years, Knapp entered the A-Sun Championship with just a few things on his mind.

“I am looking forward to the high caliber of baseball that will be played in this championship,” Knapp says. “Every team here has a chance to win. We always seem to rise to the occasion when we play teams at this level, so I think we just need to play in the moment and execute.

“Personally, I am going to worry about winning ‘this’ pitch, and executing as I have all season.”

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