FLORENCE, S.C. — Barrett Kleinknecht found himself in an odd location this past April — at least odd in terms of where he normally would be that time of year.
“This is the first time I’ve been home in April in like 12 years,” the former West Florence/Francis Marion standout and Florence Athletic Hall of Famer said. “It’s definitely a weird feeling.”
Kleinknecht is generally at the ballpark, usually from early one morning to early the next most days. His playing days are behind him, but since 2017 he’s been on the bench serving as a manager in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system.
This season was going to mark his second with the Florida Fire Frogs, the Braves’ Class A advanced affiliate now based in North Port, Florida. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought the sports world to a halt in late March — and right now any type of major or minor league season is still up in the air.
“I think is kind of in the same boat,” Kleinknecht said. “There’s not being a ton said. Everyone knows the (MLB) player’s union and the owners are trying to come to an agreement, so I think that’s kind of what everyone is waiting on to see what the next step is for baseball in general.
“I would imagine that they would try and see — when the big league season gets going, kind of wait and see how that goes for the first little bit and then try and nail down something for the minor leagues.”
A full minor-league season is probably out of the question at this point, but Kleinknecht is unsure if there will be a reduced season or simply just some form of an instructional league when things get going again.
“You never know — you never know how quickly they’re going to move with things,” he said. “If they can get some kind of safety measures in place for everyone, they may try to do something from AA up, or they might try to do a partial season for all the minor league guys.”
Whatever happens, Kleinknecht isn’t so much worried about losing a year of his managerial career as he is his players losing one.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of my players that have families in the minor leagues, and they don’t know what’s going on and they’re not getting paid,” he said. “I’m not so much worried about losing a year of managing as I am those guys losing a year of playing time. Baseball is getting so young, and these college juniors and seniors that have signed might lose a full year.
“And there’s always going to be a draft the next year, whether it’s free agents or five rounds like they’re saying, there’s still going to be that 18-year-old coming up.”
Regardless of how this season plays out, Kleinknecht’s career path is on a good trajectory right now, he said. He’s been with the Atlanta organization since 2010 when he was drafted in the 12th round, and following a six-year playing career, he served as a bench coach for the Rome Braves before moving on to manage the Gulf Coast Braves and the Fire Frogs.
“I’ve been very blessed and very fortunate to stay with the Atlanta Braves for as long as I have,” Kleinknecht said. “That’s unheard of in baseball with all the turnover in coaches. … That’s a testament to the Braves, because they really do care about more than just the name on the front. They care about the name on the back as well.
“But I’ve gotten opportunities, and they seem to think I’ve taken advantage of those opportunities. I’m still learning a lot, and I’m open to learning new things.”
Kleinknecht is itching to get back to baseball, but the extended time with his family has been a welcome change of pace for once, he added.
“It’s been a blessing to be able to spend time with my wife and my twin girls,” he said. “This is time I normally wouldn’t get to have with them otherwise. Those days at the ballfield where you get there at 9 a.m. for a 7 p.m. game, and then don’t get home until about 1 a.m. — you do that for 140 days out of 148.
“So this is a lot of extra time I get with my girls. All in all it’s been quite refreshing, because you get to enjoy everything that you have.”