Pine River baseball player to pursue college career in western Upper Peninsula

LEROY — When Pine River ends its baseball season, senior Alex Knapp will continue his career at the collegiate level where some might consider an unlikely place for the sport:

Finlandia University at Hancock in the western Upper Peninsula. It’s an NCAA Division III college.

In a region that also includes Michigan Tech, where hockey is king, baseball also reigns and Knapp signed a letter of intent recently to play baseball at the school.

“Their head coach emailed me saying they looked at my Max Preps stats and my NCAA account and they thought they’d want me to play there,” Knapp said.

Finlandia contacted Knapp about two months ago.

“They invited me to their camp, which was 26 players that signed up to go and 11 prospects that were attending,” he said. “I was one of the 11 prospects. It was to see what I could do.”

Knapp noted Finlandia has a home game in April and all of its other contests were on the road including such places as Illinois, Minnesota and Montana. The school goes down to Fort Myers, Fla., for winter baseball action.

“He’s come a long way since he was a freshman to where he is now,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said.

Knapp indicated Finlandia was looking at him to be a catcher. Pine River was 17-0 before losing two close games Tuesday to perennial state power Beal City.

“We’ve been keeping our heads together,” Knapp said. “We’ve been working really hard in practices.”

It’s Knapp’s second varsity season.

“When you see us on the field, we’re really relaxed,” he said. “We have a lot of trust in ourselves to know we’ll do the right thing in the right situation

“I’ve been hitting the ball a lot harder than in the past couple of years. That’s because of coach Ruppert taking the time with me to get my fundamentals down.”

He’s been hitting in the .350 range, an improvement from .198 last season.

“I’m not as nervous when I’m up to bat,” Knapp said.

Knapp has been a catcher since Little League.

“Everything is on me,” he said. “I have to be on my toes at all times. I have to know what’s happening. I can help out my teammates because I can see everything. I’m quick, so I’m good at blocking the ball.”

His major at Finlandia will be in psychology.

Knapp also played basketball and football.

“Baseball is my favorite and best sport,” he said. “It’s the one I have the most passion for.”