The phone call didn’t change Andrew Knizner’s life. It did change his position, and potentially his baseball future.
Knizner was named a Freshman All-America at N.C. State last season, hitting .330 while playing third base for the Pack. He then headed to the Cape Cod League for summer baseball, where he got the call.
It was Wolfpack assistant coach Chris Hart who made a somewhat surprising suggestion: what about moving to catcher.
Catcher? Knizner had never played the position at any level of baseball, never stooped behind the plate. He was a shortstop in high school and had thoughts of eventually playing short for the Pack.
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“But I said I was open to it, that I was open to anything to help the team win,” Knizner said.
Knizner’s sophomore season has been spent behind the plate for the Pack. It’s been an adjustment; it’s been a struggle at times, but Knizner says he likes the responsibility that comes with the position.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” he said. “Making this fast of a transition, and I’m being biased, to probably the hardest position on the field, at least the most physically demanding, hasn’t been easy.
“I like it a lot. The thing I like most about it is you’re in every pitch and you have more to do with the game. And I think as far as my future, catcher fits me the best of any of the positions.”
Knizner, from Glen Allen, Va., drove in a team-high 47 runs as a freshman. He was named third-team All-ACC and selected first-team Freshman All-America by Louisville Slugger.
But the Pack had a hole to fill. Catcher Brett Austin, drafted last year by the Chicago White Sox, left after his junior season to begin his professional career and Knizner had the willingness, mental toughness and athleticism to make the move.
There have been some rough edges, some rough moments. Knizner has seven passed balls in ACC games – only Andy Moog of Virginia Tech has more (12) – and he has allowed 14 stolen bases on 20 steal attempts in ACC action.
But no complaints from N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, who said Knizner has had to play his way through a painful injury this season.
“He had a calf muscle that was on the brink of tearing,” Avent said. “We couldn’t even let him run six weeks ago.
“It’s his first year behind the plate and he’s caught so many innings. He’s a battler.”
Knizner said he sat out two games because of the injury, but credited the help of strength and conditioning coach Gabe Button and Josh Geruso, an assistant director of sports medicine, saying, “They didn’t let my body break down or let me hit a wall in the season.”
Knizner was the starting quarterback and punter at Hanover High in Mechanicsville, Va. and initially came to NCSU with the idea of perhaps punting for the Wolfpack football team while also playing baseball. Not that he was following the lead of another two-sport standout from the Richmond area, Russell Wilson.
“No Russell Wilson,” Knizner said, laughing. “I’m not that good.”
But Knizner is a better college hitter than Wilson, the former Wolfpack quarterback who played three baseball seasons at NCSU. He’s batting .323 this season with three homers and 28 RBIs, and has just nine strikeouts in 155 at-bats.
Knizner was behind the plate for both games Sunday as the Wolfpack (23-18, 11-12 ACC) swept Virginia at Doak Field. Bubby Riley and Joe Dunand each had walk-off homers, making Knizner forget any personal fatigue after almost seven hours of baseball.
“A lot of teams always talk about that turning point,” Knizner said. “It’s hard to tell if this was our turning point but we have momentum going into our last two ACC series. It boosted our team emotionally and gave us some energy hopefully we can carry over.”
N.C. State vs. Longwood
Friday’s game was rained out. The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 2 p.m.