Q&A With Baseball Coach Ken Knutson

Oct. 14, 2004

The fall practice season has come to an end for the Washington baseball team, but the work continues as the Diamond Dawgs prepare for the 2005 season. Last season, the Huskies made their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance after finishing alone in second place in the powerful Pac-10 Conference. With their starting rotation back in tact and starters returning at six positions in the batting order, 2005 promises to be another strong season for the Huskies.

Ken Knutson, entering his 13th season as head coach at his alma mater, sat down with gohuskies.com recently. Here's the first of several excerpts of that interview, with more to come over the next few weeks. First, Coach Knutson recaps the summer and how his family vacation plans managed to intersect with the some of the Husky players' summer season exploits.

gohuskies.com: Tell us about your summer vacation?

Ken Knutson: Every summer, I go back to Wichita, Kansas. I took the Seattle Studs [summer league] back to the 1989 national championship and that's where I met my future wife, Pam. So, we spend lots of summers there as we go back to visit my in-laws, my children's grandparents. Every year after recruiting wraps up, we go back there to visit and it's always around the time of the NBC [National Baseball Congress] World Series. For many years, I've gotten to see the local teams that make it play.

This year, when I went back, the day I got to Wichita -- we were there for only about eight hours -- there were two games being played involving the Studs and Aloha [Ore.], so I went and watched them play. Then we took off to Arkansas for a little lakeside vacation in a cabin there. Coming back to Kansas, when I got phone service back, I found out that Aloha was playing that night for the national championship. It started at 5 o'clock or something. So, I figured if I hustled, I could get there by the third or fourth inning, which I did. My wife, my mother-in-law and my youngest daughter went and watched the end of the game. Aloha won the national championship. Kyle Parker pitched a 7-0 shutout that was just outstanding. Matt Lane drove in a run. Zach Clem had a hit. Matt Kasser didn't pitch. He was the fourth Husky on that summer team, but he was going to pitch the next game if they would have lost.

gh.com: Were those guys surprised to see you down on the field at the end of the game during the celebrations?

KK: They were completely surprised. I think they were surprised when they saw me the first time and they hadn't seen me for 10 days. It was a total fluke. It wasn't something that we'd planned. It was pretty exciting to see our guys win a national championship.

gh.com: How does winning a national championship in the summer help a player's college team?

KK: I think any time you have success, any time you win, it helps. It's nice for them to get used to it. Winning is what we want to do around here. It's what we have been doing around here. Those guys have been through a big tournament now and that's good. One of the things we try to do here is to recruit kids from winning programs that have won a lot of games and had a lot of success. So, anytime this kind of thing happens, it grows on itself and rubs off on other players. When they get into those types of situations, they know they've done it before, so it gives them a great experience.

gh.com: Kyle Parker, who pitched a shutout in the championship game, was a summer All-American. What does such a successful summer do for him?

KK: The nice thing is that he got great results over the summer. He pitched really well for us as a freshman, but he didn't have as many wins as he should have had. He had a lot of really good innings and had some no-decisions. Hopefully, this was a part of him growing up and growing as a college pitcher now that he's had some success. He knows he can be successful in the Pac-10 since he was dominant in the summer. He had about as good a summer as you can imagine. All that experience propelled him into a great fall.

gh.com: Another Husky pitcher that had a great summer was Richie Lentz, who was named the best prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League while closing for Newport, Rhode Island. What did you hear about his summer?

KK: Richie just threw the ball really hard. He was in a new role, one he's never been in, as a closer. He was throwing as hard as 97 miles an hour. He said that at first he didn't really get to pitch very much and then as the summer when on and they turned the corner as a ball club and started winning more games, he got more opportunities and more save situations. He really liked doing it. They lost, I believe, in their league championship final game and he pitched really well in the playoffs. As far as our team goes, Richie pitched very well as a freshman. You have to remember that he was our number one pitcher for the first month and a half of the season. We took him out of that role not because of anything that he did, but that we needed to develop the back side of our bullpen. We brought Parker in from there and made him a starter and moved Richie into the bullpen and it really helped our ball club. For me, Richie has the mental makeup and the competitive desire to be a very good closer. Plus, he can throw 95 to 97. That's pretty good.

gh.com: Generally speaking, what do you hope that your players are able to get out of their summer team experiences?

From a baseball standpoint, we want them to get experience and repetitions and an opportunity to play. The better the competition, the more they're going to improve as players. I think also that, since so many of our guys are local, that it's great when they get to go out and see other parts of the country and get away from home. They go out to the Cape or the New England league or Kansas or wherever, they get away from Seattle and the Northwest. It's sort of fun. It's a change of pace. Then they get to come home and play here at Washington in front of their family and friends. As for non-baseball things, I tell them to have fun and be a kid. But respect your situation and do the right thing as far as where you're living, the town you're in and your host families. I want them to represent the university in an appropriate manner.

gh.com: That's it for the summer. In the next installment, Coach Knutson tells us about the fall practice season and what the Dawgs were able to accomplish in that four-week session.

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