By Caleb Nguyen, Jan. 24, 2023
Even after winning multiple awards from numerous college baseball organizations, Ryon Knowles earned an American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings NCAA Division II Gold Glove for his defensive prowess in his final 2022 collegiate season for Cal Poly Pomona.
Knowles was recognized by the California Collegiate Athletic Association, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Division II Conference Commissioners Association and College Sports Information Directors of America alongside his Gold Glove to conclude his six-year baseball career.
“I definitely thought it was going to end,” said Knowles. “I thought my career would be over in 2020. Six years is definitely a long time, but I don’t regret it. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”
Due to the pandemic cancelling portions of two collegiate seasons, Knowles was granted two additional seasons of eligibility to complete his Bronco baseball career.
Coming from a baseball family, Knowles’ close cousin Chris O’Riordan inspired the young man to make it to the majors one day. While Knowles retired, concluding the 2022 season, he mentioned no regrets.
“I used to watch him play, growing up, in the College World Series and the minor leagues,” said Knowles. “Unfortunately, I hung up the cleats this past year, but I didn’t come short of my own personal goals. I achieved what I wanted to, and I have him to thank for that, my parents to thank for that and all of the coaches that I’ve had along the way.”
At Santiago High School in Corona, Knowles fully embraced the sport of baseball while seeing results in the classroom. In addition to recognition from his division’s second and first teams in his junior and senior seasons, Knowles spoke of the pride he took in being a four-year honor roll student as well.
“I want to say that they both go hand-in-hand,” said Knowles. “They speak to the exact definition of a student-athlete. For as hard as you work on the field, you have to work just as hard off the field. I do believe those traits carry over, and my high school coach was a big preacher of it. That key factor was big for me.”
Committing to play for California Baptist University after graduating from Santiago High in 2016, Knowles spent one semester at the school before transitioning to play for the Mt. San Antonio College Mounties for his freshman and sophomore seasons.
After dedication and humility in his freshman slate of games, Knowles rekindled a passion for the game he fell in love with as a youth in his sophomore year. There, he would help his team reach the state championship before transferring to CPP in the fall of 2018.
“I was surrounded by other successful individuals, a couple of whom signed for some pro teams afterwards,” said Knowles. “I learned from them the mindset of how you should approach the game. Off the field, on the field and learning to have fun again. I could see it from them, so that was definitely the takeaway I had in that year.”
Combining the proximity to his parents, the educational prestige and the competitive fire of the baseball team, Knowles said it was the perfect multitude of factors to choose CPP in continuing his collegiate athletic and academic career.
With a great debut junior season for the Broncos, Knowles led the team in hits, RBI, steals, average, hit by pitches and sacrifice flies on offense. Defensively, Knowles sported a .951 fielding percentage in the middle infield for the Broncos. Knowles discussed his surprise at the new, encouraging results in 2019.
“I started learning how to maximize training off the field,” said Knowles. “Not just the skill set side of things, but the physical, athletic side of things. I wasn’t used to hitting that many doubles in a single … and then you start sprinkling in some power. That led to some success that honestly, I wasn’t very used to.”
Knowles’ 2020 senior season proved even more fruitful than his last, hitting over .300 again, possessing an OPS over .800 and committing zero errors defensively. Despite the pandemic cutting the season short, Knowles had a bittersweet outlook toward his condensed first all-star season.
“Every part of my game was working and then just kind of stopping cold turkey, it was definitely hard to take in,” said Knowles. “I definitely feel like it would’ve been a career high for me. I kept it going into 2022, but I think that was a good indicator of what I could do this last season.”
Becoming aware of his 2021 season cancellation, Knowles decided to work, earn his master’s degree in business administration and continue weightlifting training. Knowles recounted maintaining creative methods to work at his craft while socially distancing before returning in the summer of 2021.
“There were times where I was working out at 11p.m., because one of my buddies had access to a batting cage with a weight room in it,” said Knowles. “We had to wait until they closed to go in after-hours … finding any way you can go to a park outside … also rekindling that motivation to work again. It was hard.”
After two months of batting cage work, Knowles prepared to play summer ball in Amarillo, Texas, preceding his final collegiate season. Knowles was no stranger to harsh conditions, playing in Anchorage, Alaska, for summer ball in 2018.
Anchorage showed Knowles an entirely new world, playing daily rather than a simple four-game weekend series. Games concluding at 11:30 and unideal meal situations made for an interesting experience, Knowles joked. Returning to California for his final CPP season, the graduate student welcomed home cooking on and off the field.
Knowles punctuated a star 2022 season with multiple awards, but he knew that the classroom would be equally as important as a student of both the game and business. Humility and simply getting the job done have always been the mentality for Knowles, and 2022 proved no different, even with the recognition.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words, because you get all these awards and they’re extremely exciting to everyone around you,” said Knowles. “To myself, it just felt like I was just doing what I needed to. At the time, I was just focused on competing, and the accolades just show how far I was willing to go to compete.” Knowles said.
He continued, “If I’m doing something, I’m going to be the best at what I do, at least to my ability. The classroom just fell into that category of work ethic, and it’s always been an expectation for me to do well in the classroom when I was younger. I think it’s just carried over, but I saw the value in it.”
Despite stating that he was never the fastest runner, the strongest thrower, or the most powerful hitter, Knowles’ perseverance and competitive spirit never wavered, outworking each opponent on and off the field to prove himself at every step of the way.
These little details included an unselfish attitude at the plate through his many hit-by-pitches. The desire to put his teammates in positions to succeed culminated in this niche skill he developed as a Bronco.
“It’s just playing the game a little unselfishly and trying to find any way you can to get on base, especially when the odds are stacked against you,” said Knowles. “It’s the greatest feeling because you know in the back of your head you just got away with it.”
Though now retired, Knowles maintains hobbies of going to the gym, playing video games and picking up golf. These activities continue involving peers who push him to maintain the competitive scrappiness that allowed him to succeed on the field as a Bronco.
Reflecting his Bronco legacy, Knowles hopes his fellow teammates and CPP students can follow his mentality that allowed him to star on and off the diamond.
“Are you going to show up every day, encouraging others to be the best version of themselves,” said Knowles. “I showed up with that mindset to know that I’m working just as hard, if not harder, than the guy next to me to just push them to be better. Once you surround yourself with people who are constantly trying to bring out the best in themselves, that’s when you see special things happen.”
Knowles concluded, “I’m hoping that legacy passes down to the younger guys … to the next generation at Cal Poly. That they’re always going to be a competitive bunch of boys who are getting after the game every single day.”
Bronco baseball will begin their season in the spring without the physical presence of their veteran second baseman. Yet, Knowles hopes his words resonate with those next up in the classroom and on the field, transitioning from his stellar career to the quiet, retired working and golfing lifestyle.
Feature image courtesy of Ryon Knowles
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