BY JEFF FALK
Matt Knox has a background in sports, but he has roots in teaching. So what better way to stay connected to the game and honor his roots than to coach baseball?
And what better place to do it than at his alma mater?
One of its greatest products as a player, Knox is the latest addition to a Cedar Crest baseball program that is always exploring different ways to improve, on and off the diamond. But more than a coach, Knox is a baseball teacher.
Officially, Knox is in his first season as a Crest assistant coach, and his main duties include working with CC’s pitchers. But he is willing to help out wherever needed, because once a Falcon always a Falcon.
“It’s all connected,” said Knox. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy baseball. From the competitive side, it’s not my game to play any more. These guys want to go out and compete. I’m more of a teacher than I’m-going-to-get-fired-up-about-a-bad-call guy. When they make errors or mistakes, you need to find ways for players to get past them and move on. It’s not all about the Ws and the Ls.
“(Head coach Brown) Josh and I played against each other in high school. Josh and I played against each other in college,” continued Knox. “Graduating from Cedar Crest and wanting to go back and help out was a part of it. It seemed like a really good fit. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Knox, a 1998 graduate of CCHS and a one-time farm hand in the Cleveland Indians’ organization, reconnected with Brown and his scholastic background through his work as a co-founder and instructor at Elite Baseball academy in Mount Joy. The fact that he was familiar with some of the current Falcon players made what seems to be a natural extension of his teaching career all that easier.
“I spend a lot of time with pitchers, and cover other aspects of the game when asked,” said Knox of his current role with the Falcons. “I work with hitters ocassionally and help out wherever I can. The fact that I played on both sides of the plate puts me in a unique position to help all our players.
“I tell the pitchers to command the strike zone, early and often,” Knox continued. “When you’re on the mound, it’s your mound and your plate. I want them to have command of the fastball, so the off-speed is effective. Some of the stuff we worked on early was directional. But we want to be able to hit spots.”
Knox, who calls pitches during games for the Falcons, has helped solidify and stabilize the Cedar Crest’s pitching this spring, which has been one of keys to its success. No less than ten Cedar Crest players have logged time on the mound this season.
There was a time, not that long ago, when scholastic baseball programs didn’t assign a specific coach to the essential art of pitching – much less anyone who possesses the knowledge of pitching that Knox has.
“I think those guys have made some significant changes and advancements,” said Knox of the current Falcon hurlers. “When you’re coaching kids, you talk to them. You’ve got to be able to connect with them. There’s got to be a certain level of trust there. But they’ve done some very good things this year. And it’s been a positive thing for me.”
His five years of experience as a professional, minor-league player – three as a pitcher – uniquely qualifies Knox to disseminate information and knowlege about the game. But a message only becomes effective when it is received.
“I think some of them are aware, but I don’t know if all of them are aware,” said Knox of his professional playing career. “Some guys are aware of my past. But that was a long time ago. I try to draw upon the experiences I had and the knowledge I gained, and I try to pass it along. My past doesn’t matter, but my knowledge does.
“Respect is mutal,” added Knox. “If you show your players respect, in turn, they will show you respect. My job is to make them better. If they get better, Cedar Crest will win. It’s what people want. But every kid is a little different. You’ve got to find ways to get through to individual players. They respond to different things.”
After graduating from Cedar Crest, Knox went on to enjoy a record-breaking career at Division Two Millersville University. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 2001 Major League Baseball draft by the Indians.
But Knox never fullfilled his dream of making it to the majors. He got as high as high-Class A in the minors, and ended his professional career with the Lancaster Barnstormers in 2006.
In 930 career at-bats as a first baseman and third baseman in the minors, Knox batted .248 with 22 home runs and 135 RBIs. As a pitcher, Knox appeared in 72 minor-league games – all as a reliever – and posted an ERA of 2.67 with 120 strikeouts, 29 walks and 13 total saves.
“You can look back on the past,” said Knox, who’s 38, married and the father of two small boys. “But I’m not dwelling on the past. I can draw on some of my playing experiences and relay that information to the kids.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Knox added. “I got a chance to get paid playing baseball past college. I did what I needed to do to get where I was.”
As his playing days were winding down, Knox was approached by a former teammate at Millersville, Matt Werts, about starting an instructional academy for aspiring baseball players. Over the past 11 years, Elite Baseball has helped match over 200 area players with college programs.
“I didn’t know what I was going to be doing,” said Knox of the 2006 season with the Barnstorms. “But I knew that was going to be my last year of playing baseball. At the time, I had entered some classes at West Chester (University) to be a teacher. This (Elite Baseball) kind of fell into my lap. It’s the best of both worlds for me. I get to teach and I get to teach baseball. I turned a passion into a job and a career.
“The hope is we can help them (players) with whatever their goals are,” continued Knox. “Maybe college placement or just help kids to navigate the next four years of their lives. You want to make sure it’s a good fit. It’s something we’re really good at. You hope to make them a better baseball player and that you can have an impact on their lives.”
Certainly coaching baseball at Cedar Crest is part of Knox’s evolutionary process as a teacher, instructor and mentor. But what the future holds for Knox beyond that is, as of yet, uncertain.
“It is similar, without a doubt,” said Knox of his CCHS coaching gig. “You’re working with kids from 14 to 18. You want to be there for them. You want to help them on and off the baseball field, if they need it. You want them to trust themselves and trust their abilities. You want them to know it’s not OK to give up.
“If Coach Brown is still coaching, I’ll help,” Knox continued. “Five-to-ten years from now, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ve enjoyed my time at Cedar Crest and I hope it doesn’t end any time soon. I want to continue to impact kids’ lives, on and off the baseball field. I don’t have any aspirations to go on and be a college coach, or anything else.”
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