Commentary: Knight Should Be Quite A Catch In Final Season At Staples

Chad Knight returns to the mound for his final season at Staples. (Mark Conrad)

This was part of a scouting report on Chad Knight from the 2013 Little League World Series: “Hitterish look in box.”

Fast forward six years and Knight, now a senior at Staples, is still hitterish. He’s also pitcherish, fielderish and, the Wreckers hope this year, catcherish.

There is no aspect Knight has yet to master on the field. Off of it too. The number of FCIAC athletes who have matched his maturity, insight and perspective are very few. I’m measuring not this year, or last, but during my time covering the league, which spans over three decades. His responses during interviews sound like they are coming from someone 10 years older, not an athlete still two months shy of earning a high school diploma.

Going back to being one of the stars of a Westport team that reached the championship game of the Little League World Series, to making an impact as a freshman for the Wreckers, it only appears that Knight is an eighth-year senior.

“I know the cliché is time goes by when you’re having fun, but I’ve really enjoyed my three years here and hoping to enjoy my fourth,” Knight said. “We have a great team this year and there’s nothing better than playing baseball with some of your best friends.”

That last sentiment brings to mind the road Knight decided not to travel, one that best describes his character in the same way statistics measure his baseball aptitude.

“Chad’s a special kid,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “He could have gone to a prep school, he could have gone to IMG, he could have gone to Fairfield Prep. He could have gone anywhere he wanted to. He’s one of those rare kids and wanted to stay in Westport and it has paid off for him. He’s won a state championship, he’s played in the county championship, he’s been All-State two years. Chad could have disappeared off the radar when he was 15 but he decided to come and committed and have a great four years. He’s a leader, he’s a great role model for the rest of the kids. He’s really a dream to coach.”

Knight has the individual accomplishments. Last year he batted .420, with a 4-1 record and 1.56 earned run average on the mound. He has the state title that came two years ago, a win that ended Amity’s dynastic CIAC run.

From a team standpoint, the only void is an FCIAC title. The Wreckers lost to Darien in extra innings in last year’s final. When asked about securing that goal in his final chance, Knight delivered a towering 450-foot quote that soared above the usual superficiality.

“We talk about it but our goal is just to win and be the best team we can,” Knight said. “If that results in an FCIAC championship or a state championship or no championships at all, we will be giving it our all and we know it is going to be a great season.”

Knight, who has been all over the field when not pitching for the Wreckers, this spring is moving to the one position he has yet to play.

“He’s going to catch,” McFarland said. “I think it’s more of his body type. He’s not 6-4, 6-5. We know he can throw the ball 90 miles an hour. He’s going to pitch a lot this year. We really felt like with his body type, 6-0, 215 pounds, his best move forward was to get behind the plate. He swings the bat, he’s got a lot of power. He’s just adding another tool to get on the field when he gets to Duke.”

Knight has been committed to Duke long before anyone heard of Zion Williamson. Going behind the plate is another baseball equation to try and perfect.

“A completely new position. I really didn’t dedicate myself until last October,” Knight said. “I started really working on the mechanics of it. It has been a lot of fun. It certainly is challenging. I think the first times I did it I was walking around like a penguin because my knees got so tight. It requires more maintenance. When you can catch you can see the game from a different perspective.”

When not pitching, Chad Knight will be the Wreckers’ starting catcher. (Mark Conrad)

His experience on the other end of the battery has probably accelerated the transition, but Knight said there is a learning curve he is still adjusting to.

“Knowing that every pitcher has a different personality. When I’m on the mound I didn’t realize how much torture I might have put my catchers through,” Knight said. “Throwing balls in the dirt or I’m not too clear with my signs. That’s fun for me. It is kind of a full 360. Every pitcher on our team is a little bit different so getting to know them has been great. It has been a lot of fun.

“The mechanics are very different. I’ve always played infield and in the infield you’re taught to catch the ball and not to bobble it. For catching, the hardest thing for me, when you’re taught blocking you’re not supposed to use your glove, you’re not supposed to catch it, you’re supposed to let it hit you. For me, I never played contact sports. I never played football, I never played lacrosse or those physical sports. It was always the exact opposite. You are retraining your brain to get hit by the ball and let it happen.”

McFarland said there is already one area where Knight will have an instant edge.

“He has a high baseball IQ,” McFarland said. “He will look where the hitters are standing and what to throw them, what happened the first time around. It will really be an advantage to get him back there. He’s worked so hard at it. When you see him you won’t say this is the first time he’s ever catching.”

Like most seniors, Knight is navigating the emotions that come with being focused on the present while the future is in the back of his mind.

“I think it all started when the new year came. This is going to be the last time I’m playing in Westport, the last time I’m playing with kids I’ve been playing with for 10 years,” Knight said. “My last year with Coach McFarland. It’s gone by so quick. I know this is going to be my fourth year but it feels like it was just yesterday when I was a freshman. I’m certainly thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been able to have.”

No matter what happens over the next two months, Knight will leave his mark as one of the most talented and classiest athletes in Staples history.

Superiorish, on and off the field.

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