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Knolls share a strong father-son bond through baseball

Phil Knoll has been there for every step of Brendan Knoll's baseball journey. Here's what it's like to watch a baseball game from a dad's perspective and get a behind-the-scenes look at the bond they share.

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The Honkers' Brendan Knoll, who grew up in Kasson, throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

ROCHESTER — Phil Knoll knows that these moments aren’t going to happen every day.

So when his son Brendan came back to Kasson on Father’s Day after attending a wedding, Phil didn’t take it for granted when Brendan asked if they could go play catch at 8 p.m.

For 30 minutes, a dad had uninterrupted time with his oldest son.

A day later, Brendan toed the Mayo Field rubber and prepared for his third start in a Rochester Honkers uniform. Phil was posted up down the left-field line on the Sports Deck, pacing around in a purple Minnesota State University, Mankato sweatshirt.

RELATED: From Kasson to Mankato to Rochester: How Brendan Knoll's dream came true

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“I don’t usually sit very well when he’s pitching,” Phil says.

He’s seen hundreds of these starts, dating back to when Brendan was 10 years old. Phil and his wife, Deanna, have been there every step of the way. Brendan didn’t even like baseball until his freshman year at Kasson-Mantorville, when the KoMets won the 2013 Class AA state championship.

But Brendan fell in love with the grind and has evolved into one of the Honkers' very best starters. Rochester needed a win badly this past Monday, having lost five consecutive games. Knoll was facing a Duluth lineup that was exploitable, but Monday’s outing didn’t get off to a good start. On the second pitch of the game, Duluth’s leadoff hitter Michael Brooks bounced a two-hopper to Mac Horvath at third base. Even though Horvath had tons of time, he sailed the throw and Brooks advanced to second base. Then, Knoll’s third pitch ricocheted off catcher Hank Bard’s glove and was ruled a passed ball.

In a span of three pitches, Knoll had a runner on third base.

"Got what he wanted,” Phil Knoll said after the early ground ball. “Come on Brendan, get out of this mess.”

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Phil Knoll, of Kasson, claps while watching his son, Honkers pitcher Brendan Knoll, in a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Phil was surrounded by family and friends in the seats down the left-field line. Every time Brendan pitches for the Honkers, it’s a big family ordeal. Forty-one people came to watch him pitch in his Honkers debut on June 6. On Monday, the Brendan Knoll Fan Club had 25 members.

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Phil was anxious after Brendan walked the second hitter. He couldn’t even stand still, let alone sit down, and Duluth’s dangerous No. 3 hitter Blayne Robinson was stepping into the box. Brendan quickly used a breaking ball and a 91 miles-per-hour fastball to put Robinson at an 0-2 count.

“Time to use that changeup,” Phil says with a knowing look.

It’s like father and son are in sync. The 0-2 pitch was a changeup and Robinson bounced a one-hopper up the middle. Instead of looking to nab Brooks at home, Brendan spun and fired to second. Honkers shortstop Seth Betts made a terrific grab and fired to first to complete a double play.

"Good pick Seth,” Phil shouted. "Thatta babe.”

One unearned run was the only damage that Duluth could get because Knoll struck out Bryan Broecker on four pitches. HIs devastating breaking ball made Broecker look silly on strike three.

Phil’s mood immediately switches as Brendan walks off the mound. The stress appears to disappear and he can relax while the Honkers bat. But he’s still locked in to the game. Rochester immediately makes a rally and Phil celebrates when the Honkers tie the game on a Horvath hot-shot single.

“Thatta babe, Mac,” Phil says. “Man, he hit that ball hard.”

In the second inning, Brendan goes to work, inducing three straight ground balls. Ambren Voitik hit a grounder to J.J. Cruz at first base, and Brendan sprinted over the bag to cover. He made the play and whipped a rocket to Betts at shortstop as the Honkers threw the ball around the infield.

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Except Knoll whistled it at Betts as hard as he could and it was a little above Betts’ head.

"Hit him in the chest one time!” Phil yelled.

Brendan added: “I don’t know why but I was really fired up and excited after that play but I heard him and it made me smile.”

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Phil Knoll, of Kasson, claps while watching his son, Honkers pitcher Brendan Knoll, in a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

For the next three innings, Phil watched as Brendan pitched a solid five-inning outing. Phil knew that Brendan’s pitch count wouldn’t exceed 85 pitches. So after the fifth inning, he knew that his son's time on the mound for that game was over.

Knoll's final line was just fine: Five innings, three hits, two runs, one earned run, three walks, four strikeouts.

Phil knows the game better than most people, and even though he’s biased, he’s not blind. He was frustrated that Duluth was able to get aggressive on the base paths against Knoll. He didn’t love the three walks. But he was proud of Brendan's ability to limit the damage and keep the Honkers in the game. He liked the five ground balls that Brendan was able to induce, and even though the velocity wasn't quite at his peak, Brendan only allowed minimal hard contact.

As soon as Knoll was done with his outing, Phil went on a tour around Mayo Field to make sure that he talked to each and every person who came to the game to watch Brendan. Rochester went on to win 4-2 and the five-game losing streak was over. Knoll’s ERA sits at a tidy 2.20 after three starts. he’s allowed just four earned runs in 16 1/3 innings this season. Opponents are hitting just .185 against Knoll this season.

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The Honkers' Brendan Knoll, who grew up in Kasson, throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“It’s been pretty impressive all the way through,” Phil Knoll said. “He’s just made the most of every opportunity. When he gets a chance, he takes advantage. He certainly loves the grind."

Making a sacrifice

Brendan Knoll’s rise from Kasson-Mantorville to being an outfielder at Century Community College to becoming one of Minnesota State, Mankato’s aces to earning a spot with the Honkers has been remarkable. He fell in love with the grind and his work ethic has helped his fastball improve by more than 5 mph in the last six months. Now, he’s touching 94 mph and could easily be in the conversation to play professional baseball.

But he only knew how to work that hard because of watching his parents on a daily basis. Phil is a plumber in Kasson.

"That’s what that dude does every single day,” Brendan said. "Just goes to work, does what he can for the family to help provide. He doesn’t complain. He’s a plumber. I’ve done it with him in the summers and that is not fun. It's hard on your body. He does it every day. At the end of the day, he comes and supports his kids and his wife. That’s what I take the most out of that. He could be dog-tired. On Monday, he went and worked all day long. So did my mom. But at the end of the day, they come to watch me play. (His work ethic) is what I’ll take from him the most.”

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Phil Knoll, of Kasson, watches his son, Honkers pitcher Brendan Knoll, in a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Phil and Deanna have sacrificed a lot to help their sons Brendan and Easton (a football player at Winona State) pursue their athletic careers. Phil would say that the boys get their athletic genes from Deanna, who was a three-sport standout at Owatonna.

"Just being there whenever they can is the biggest sacrifice,” Brendan said. "The days off work to come watch me play. It’s not like the bills are just going to keep getting paid when they take off work. They're taking their time, their money to watch me play. All the car rides, all the meals after games. It adds up.

"Whenever him and my mom are at my games, even if I’m not playing, I love to see them there. Obviously, they’re there to watch me, but I think they just love watching baseball. Whatever team I’m on, they like to come to watch and support me. It means a lot to know that they’re always going to be there for me.”

A special Father's Day

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Phil Knoll, of Kasson, watches his son, Honkers pitcher Brendan Knoll, in a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Father’s Day means a little more to Brendan Knoll than others. He calls Phil his “biggest male role model.” During hot summer days when he isn’t playing baseball, Brendan looks forward to the times he gets to work with Phil. And Phil cherishes those moments even more.

Every time that Brendan asks to play catch, Phil says yes. Just like his dad, Jesse, did when Phil was a kid.

But the Knolls have had some scary moments playing catch. One time last summer Phil squatted down onto a bucket without any catcher’s gear on to catch a quick bullpen. One changeup darted down into the dirt and took a nasty ricochet. The bad hop caught Phil in a bad, painful spot.

“I was like, ‘Dude, I’m done,’” Brendan said. “I told him that I didn't want to throw bullpens to him anymore. He goes, ‘What? It was a good pitch, down in the zone and probably would’ve gotten a swing and a miss.’”

Phil laughs as he recalls the story. Even though his knees might creak a little more, he’s made sure to get all the catcher’s gear on now whenever he catches Brendan. And even though he might not admit it to his dad, Brendan takes a little off the velocity when he’s behind the dish.

"I get to spend an hour with my dad which obviously doesn’t get to happen very much anymore,” Brendan said. "I think he loves it, too.”

On Father’s Day, Brendan tweeted about his dad and called Phil his “all-time favorite catch partner.”

“I mean, I can’t even throw the baseball,” Phil said. “I lob it or I bounce it to him. I’m not sure what it is but ever since high school, I’ve had the yips about throwing. He doesn’t get frustrated and yell at me to, ‘get it together.’ It just means so much.”

It’s a father and son bonding over baseball and doing whatever they can to spend time together.

The next time that Brendan steps onto the mound for the Honkers, it's a safe bet that Phil and Deanna Knoll will be there watching.

When Brendan comes home and asks to play catch, Phil is going to say yes. Those moments aren’t going to last forever, but Phil is determined to make that small sacrifice every single time.

Not just on Father’s Day, but every day. Because that’s just what dads do. And Brendan Knoll believes he has the best dad in the world.

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The Honkers' Brendan Knoll, who grew up in Kasson, throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

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The Honkers' Brendan Knoll, who grew up in Kasson, throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Duluth Huskies Monday, June 21, 2021, at Mayo Field in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Email: itrotter@postbulletin.com
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