To win games, one has to be fierce and competitive on the field at all times. To win in life, one has to maintain a stable, calm energy and exude pride and happiness in the tasks that he or she does.
Over the course of his baseball career, and really, his lifespan, Marty Knittel has successfully maintained the attitudes that have allowed him to develop into the pure winner that he is today — both on and off of the baseball diamond.
And in a family that’s known for its baseball prowess and has high expectations of its own, that’s impressive.
Knittel’s persistence in multiple areas paid off in a big way on Monday evening, when the talented West Portsmouth Senator and Post 142 Shocker signed to play with the Shawnee State University baseball program on Monday morning inside the halls of West Portsmouth High School in West Portsmouth. In doing so, he joined his older brothers, Anthony and Brady, in signing with college baseball programs.
For Knittel, finalizing his plans brought, as expected, relief.
“It feels good,” Knittel said. “It’s been a long process. I’ve had a lot of talks with my family and God, and now that it’s here, I feel like I have made the right decision. It feels good to be settled in as a Bear!”
However, it’s an opportunity that Rapp knows is a well-deserved one for a young man that has been around the game of baseball over his entire life and for a man who has worked hard in order to develop into the baseball talent that he is today.
“It seemed like yesterday that he started out as a freshman,” Rapp said. “He’s worked so hard to get where he is today, and because of the hard work, he is going to get the privilege to play college baseball and play in the footsteps of his brother. It’s special because he’s the youngest in the immediate family. He’s always had to scrap and fight for what he’s going with being the youngest sibling, and I believe that’s made him a better baseball player.”
In each of his four seasons, Knittel earned varsity letters as part of Rapp’s baseball unit, and developed into the ideal player and leader for West with his ability to play any position asked of him.
Primarily, Knittel pitched, played third base, and saw a stint at first base en route to obtaining All-SOC and All-Southeast District honors in each of his final pair of seasons of action. He’s seen action in the same areas with the Post 142 Shockers over the summer, and has put together a string of impressive performances in doing so.
This included Monday evening’s contest against Portsmouth Post 23, where the future SSU standout threw a complete game five-hitter, struck out four, and knocked in fellow teammate Talon Osborne on a game-winning double in the top of the seventh inning to complete a 4-3 Waverly comeback victory after Post 142 trailed by a 3-0 tally after three innings of play.
That’s certainly not bad for a kid that had been around the high school program since he was in sixth grade, when he shagged fly balls for the high schoolers in the program at that time, according to Rapp.
“We could put Marty wherever we needed,” Rapp said. “I could even put him behind the plate as a catcher, but I never did one time. We had a solid defense, and Marty was a reason why we did. He would talk to the players about bunt situations, where to be, and where position players should be located depending on the hitter that is up at the plate. That has a lot to do with his experience playing Legion ball and knowing where they hit and pitch. His baseball IQ is very, very high.”
“It’s been a experience that I’ll never forget, even though it’s over,” Knittel said of his time at West. “I got to play in some big games and big moments that I will always cherish. As an athlete, you work and live for moments like that. The intensified games are just what sports are all about, which is the competition that you are going up against and competing at the very best that you can in order to emerge with a win. With (Chris) Rapp, I have been in a lot of those big time games.”
The work that Knittel was able to put in on the field of play, however, came in large part due to the work that he put in with his father, Tony, and his older brothers on the diamond.
“If it wasn’t for them, I’d never have had this opportunity,” Knittel said. “The same goes with my father. There’s been so many nights and days of just working on the little parts of the game that you’d think wouldn’t even matter or staying after the game a solid two hours just talking on what I can do better and how to fix certain things. The advice has basically been about working hard, and knowing that everything else will fall into place by doing so.”
As it worked out, however, Tony’s oldest son faced off against his two youngest sons.
With Anthony, a former Marietta College player, assisting for Aaron Hopper as part of the Minford baseball program, Marty — along with Brady, who ran the West junior varsity baseball program for Rapp while finishing his baseball career up at Shawnee State — were suddenly on opposite sides of the fence.
As expected, the ribbing inside family lines was there — but not unexpected.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t,” Knittel said, using the laugh emoji through Twitter. “It was mostly the day before and leading up to the game. As far as in pregame, though, it didn’t really occur. I’m getting locked in and he’s doing his coaching thing, so we’re focusing on keeping it between the lines.”
“I’m sure it took place at home,” Rapp said. “Marty was wanting to win both games so bad. To be honest, I think that it put an added pressure on him. But that’s big brother there. Anthony wanted to see Marty do good and go 4-for-4, but he just wanted Minford to win the ballgame, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Brady (West JV coach) would get on Marty. He’d get on the fence a couple of times and get on him.”
His presence and calming attitude in all areas, however, is arguably as good as, if not better than, his overall baseball skills. Knittel, whose smile and energy indicates a young man who rarely seems to have a bad day, is a young man that Rapp even credits for turning his own days around when they have been of the southward variety.
“His personality is just infectious,” Rapp said. “Some days at school, I’ll be having frustrating days. Then, I’ll come down the hallway or practice and see his demeanor and the way that he carried himself, from the regular school day to practice, and it’d change my entire outlook.”
And it was that know-what-to-expect personality that kept West in the top half of the SOC II race. In each of the last two seasons of Knittel’s high school career, West advanced to Division III District Semifinal action at VA Memorial Stadium en route to leading the Senators to a 24-22 record, according to statistics obtained from Gamechanger, over the program’s final pair of seasons.
His play as a third baseman, in particular, was huge in the final contest of his career, which proved to be a nine-inning thriller against the Rock Hill Redmen. In that contest, Knittel’s play at third base, among others, proved to be vital for fellow senior Drew Cassidy, who threw eight innings of five-hit baseball while striking out nine, before Rock Hill scored on West’s lone error of the game in the bottom of the ninth frame to take home a 1-0 victory.
“What he brought to the table as a leader on this team was special,” Rapp said. “I can honestly say that there’s not one time that I went down to the field and had to tell the boys to get the bases out, the equipment out, or go and stretch. I’d have some work to do sometimes at the school and would get down a little bit late, and the guys would already be out there working. That’s a credit to his leadership and Drew Cassidy’s as well. They took things into their own hands and truly led the team.”
“He’s someone that is special to me and that I will look up to for the rest of my life,” Knittel said of his coach. “As far as my teammates, I’ve played with some great ones. I can say confidently that regardless of the outcome of our season, we fought with everything in us, especially at tournament time. I remember during my sophomore year, we trailed by a 9-1 margin or something like that (against Chillicothe Huntington), and came back in the last inning and lost by one. This past year, we played in extras at the VA. Over the last four years, we’ve had competitors in our baseball program, and that, among other things, made the program a great experience for me. I’m proud to say that I was once a part of West baseball!”
As a whole, Marty Knittel has always been known as the upbeat and fiery guy that resembles an excellent teammate, because that’s how he’s been raised by a family that understands baseball as well any in this area, and that know the game as well as any in this area.
And Knittel wouldn’t want to play for any other place than on the West Side.
“It’s been a fun ride the past four years,” Knittel said. “It’s really something that I will never forget. It’s something special to know that I end that streak, so to speak, with my brothers playing in the past. Now I’m the last one doing so. So the tradition is something special between my family and I. It feels good to be the period at the end of a sentence.”
“Sometimes, you’d have a tough loss and he’d be there to pick his teammates up,” Rapp said of Knittel’s leadership. “After 27 games, the players probably get tired of me saying the same things, so I said, ‘Marty, it’s your team. Talk to them. I’d walk off, and he’d talk to them and let his leadership take over. That leadership is going to be hard to replace. Hopefully, somebody will step up and pick up where he left off.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT