January 29, 2023

By Caleb Nguyen January 24, 2023

Even after winning multiple awards from numerous college baseball organizations, Ryon Knowles received a Gold Glove from the American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings NCAA Division II for his defensive skills in his final collegiate season in 2022 with Cal Poly Pomona.

Knowles was recognized by the California Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association, and the College Sports Information Directors of America, alongside his Gold Glove, at the conclusion of his six-year baseball career.

“I definitely thought it was going to end,” Knowles said. “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.”

Courtesy of Ryon Knowles

Due to the pandemic, which canceled portions of two college seasons, Knowles received two additional seasons to complete his bronco baseball career.

Knowle’s close cousin, Chris O’Riordan, who comes from a baseball family, inspired the young man to one day make the majors. While Knowles retired at the conclusion of the 2022 season, he mentioned no regrets.

“Growing up, I always watched him play in the College World Series and minor leagues,” Knowles said. “Unfortunately I gave up the cleats last year, but I didn’t miss my personal goals. I achieved what I set out to do and I owe it to him, my parents and all the coaches I’ve had along the way.”

At Santiago High School in Corona, Knowles embraced the sport of baseball fully while also seeing results in the classroom. In addition to receiving recognition from his division’s second and first teams during his junior and senior seasons, Knowles spoke of the pride he felt on the roll of honor even as a four-year student.

“I want to say that both go hand in hand,” Knowles said. “You address the exact definition of a student athlete. Because as hard as you work on the field, you have to work just as hard off the field. I believe these traits carry over, and my high school coach was a great preacher of that. That key factor was big for me.”

Knowles signed on to play for California Baptist University after graduating from Santiago High in 2016 and spent a semester at the school before transferring to Mt. San Antonio College Mounties for his freshman and sophomore seasons.

After dedication and humility in his first set of games, Knowles reignited his passion for the game he fell in love with as a sophomore. There he would help his team reach the state championship before joining CPP in the fall of 2018.

“I was surrounded by other successful individuals, some of whom later signed for some pro teams,” Knowles said. “I learned from them the mindset of how to approach the game. Off the course, onto the course and having fun learning again. I could see them so that was definitely the meal I had this year.”

Combining the closeness to his parents, the educational prestige, and the baseball team’s competitive fire, Knowles said it was the perfect multitude of factors to choose CPP to pursue his athletic and academic college career.

With a great junior season for the Broncos, Knowles led the team in hits, RBI, steals, average, hit by pitches and sacrifice flies on offense. Defensively, Knowles had a .951 fielding percentage in the middle infield for the Broncos. Knowles spoke about his surprise at the new, encouraging results in 2019.

“I started learning how to maximize off-field training,” Knowles said. “Not just the skills side, but the physical, athletic side of things. I wasn’t used to hitting so many doubles in a single… and then you start throwing in some power. That led to some successes that, to be honest, I wasn’t very used to.”

Knowles’ 2020 senior season proved to be even more fruitful than his last. He hit over .300 again, possessed an OPS over .800 and made zero defensive errors. Though the pandemic shortened the season, Knowles had a bittersweet outlook on his shortened first All-Star season.

“Every part of my game was working and then I just stopped going cold turkey, it was definitely hard to understand,” Knowles said. “I definitely feel like it would have been a career highlight for me. I made it through 2022 but I think that was a good indicator of what I was able to achieve last season.”

Upon learning of his cancellation of the 2021 season, Knowles decided to work, pursue his master’s degree in business administration and continue training in weightlifting. Knowles shared how he maintained creative methods to work on his craft while social distancing before returning in the summer of 2021.

“There were times I was training at 11 p.m. because one of my buddies had access to a batting cage with a weight room in it,” Knowles said. “We had to wait until they closed to go in after hours…find a way to go outside to a park…and also rekindle that motivation to go back to work.” It was hard.”

After two months of working in the batting cage, Knowles was preparing to play summer ball in Amarillo, Texas before his final collegiate season. No stranger to rough conditions, Knowles played for Summer Ball in 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Anchorage showed Knowles a whole new world where he played daily instead of a simple four-game weekend series. Games ended at 11:30 a.m. and non-ideal dining situations made for an interesting experience, Knowles joked. Returning to California for his final CPP season, the graduate student embraced home cooking on and off the field.

Knowles underscored a star-studded 2022 season with multiple awards, but he knew the classroom would be just as important as a student of both the game and the business. Humility and just getting the job done has always been the mentality for Knowles, and 2022 proved no different with the recognition.

“It’s hard to put into words because you get all these awards and they’re extremely exciting for everyone around you,” said Knowles. “For myself, it just felt like I was just doing what I had to do. At the time, my focus was only on competition, and the awards just show how far I was willing to go to compete,” Knowles said.

He continued: “If I do something, I will be the best at what I do, at least according to my ability. The classroom just fell into that category of work ethic, and when I was younger I was always expected to do well in the classroom. I think it was just transmitted, but I saw the value in it.”

Despite saying he was never the fastest runner, the strongest pitcher, or the strongest hitter, Knowles’ stamina and fighting spirit never wavered, outperforming every opponent on and off the field to prove himself at every turn.

Among those small touches was a selfless attitude at the plate through his many hit-by-pitches. A desire to put his teammates in successful positions culminated in this niche skill he developed as a bronco.

“It’s just playing the game a little selflessly and trying to find every possible way to get to base, especially when the odds are against you,” Knowles said. “It’s the greatest feeling because in the back of your mind you know you just got away with it.”

Although Knowles is now retired, he maintains his hobbies by going to the gym, playing video games, and golfing. These activities continue to involve peers who urge him to maintain the competitive scuffle that allowed him to thrive on the field as a bronco.

Reflecting his bronco legacy, Knowles hopes his teammates and CPP students can follow his mentality that has allowed him to play on and off the diamond.

“You’re going to show up every day and encourage others to be the best version of themselves,” Knowles said. “I showed up with that attitude, to know that I work just as hard, if not harder, than the guy next to me, to just push them to get better. When you surround yourself with people who are constantly trying to bring out the best in themselves, special things happen.”

Knowles concluded, “I hope that legacy will be passed on to the younger generation…to the next generation at Cal Poly. That they will always be a competitive bunch of guys chasing the game every day.”

Bronco Baseball will begin its spring season without the physical presence of their veteran second baseman. However, Knowles hopes his words will resonate with those next in the classroom and on the field who are making the transition from his stellar career to the quiet work and golfing life of retirement.

Feature image courtesy of Ryon Knowles

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