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Jul 09, 2024

Knaaking Down The Door

By: Chris Perry

The following appears in the latest issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.

From a young age, Aidan Knaak has always had a desire to play at baseball’s highest level. He credited a lot of his current success to the competitive environment in Florida.

The freshman righthander grew up in Fort Myers, Fla. He attended Bishop Verot Catholic High School, where he played baseball for four years. Knaak thanked his father, Rob, for not only getting him into the sport of baseball, but also into pitching at a young age.

“My dad got me into baseball and was the one who was coaching me throughout Little League. He played college baseball as well. I’ve pitched my whole life.

“In Little League, you would play all the different positions, but I’ve always loved pitching. My dad was a pitcher, so he got me into it.”

Both of Knaak’s parents are from California. His father attended and played Division I baseball at Cal Poly. He also has a sister, Madeline, who plays volleyball at Bishop Verot Catholic High School. He firmly believes the athletic and competitive nature of his family complements the sporting environment in Florida well, providing him with a solid foundation to find success.

“Growing up, in high school and in Florida, it’s very competitive baseball. You have the hot weather all year-round, and you were always playing against good competition.

“As far as summer ball, it’s the same thing. You’ve known how to play with these guys since eighth grade, ninth grade, freshman year. I even had the same coach throughout my high school years and travel ball, and he was pretty good.”

It is safe to say that growing up in this Florida environment makes it challenging to get recruited to top programs. The righthander saw the most improvement in his velocity during his sophomore and junior years, helping him get recruited to many top programs and initially committing to Clemson under Head Coach Monte Lee and Recruiting Coordinator Bradley LeCroy.

“The recruiting process was a little stressful. Everyone’s out there trying to get committed. It was a very long process. It’s a lot of traveling. But it was good because I would be with my dad and spend quality time with him on those long road trips.”

During Knaak’s senior season, he slowly crept onto the scene as a potential MLB draft pick. His fastball reached up to 96 mph and he registered a sub 1.80 ERA. These accolades earned him a spot at the MLB Draft Combine, an exclusive event for high school athletes selected by a committee of scouting executives. Even with this national success, upon visiting Clemson and meeting with new Clemson Head Coach Erik Bakich, Knaak knew that Tigertown was the right place for him to continue his career.

“I originally fell in love with Clemson because I knew it was a great baseball program. And when I came to the campus, it just fit with everything I had in mind. I really liked the campus a lot…we have the lake right here. Once I met Coach Bakich, that pretty much sealed the deal. He’s such a great coach with what he does and with the players. He treats this whole program like a family. I really liked that a lot.”

Knaak brings an elusive pitching arsenal to the table. He features a fastball that sits in the mid 90s, a 12-6 curveball that sits around 80 mph and a changeup that many consider to be his best pitch in the upper 70 mph range. He credited a lot of his pitching success to his long-time pitching coach, Hank Woodman.

“Trying to learn new pitches is really fun. Also, trying out new grips is interesting. I had a pitching coach when I was younger, Hank Woodman. I still talk to him to this day. He was the man who helped me learn all the pitches I throw today.”

Knaak continued his success under Pitching Coach Jimmy Belanger in 2024. During his young Clemson career, Knaak has been decorated with many honors, rare-air for a first-year freshman. He believes a positive and competitive mindset plays an important role in finding success at any level of pitching.

“I always treat every game like it’s my last, going out there and competing at the highest level. In high school and travel ball, we faced a lot of these guys that I’m seeing nowadays. It’s a bit of an adjustment with the bigger stage and bigger crowd, and a lot better players at this level. The margins are smaller. You just need to be more refined when it comes to pitching.”

As far as plans after Clemson, Knaak has his sights firmly set on playing baseball. With his parents hailing from California, Knaak grew up a Dodgers fan, making him fancy a career there in the near-future.

“Since I was a little kid, I always had that dream of playing in the MLB. Growing up watching the Dodgers, it would be cool playing for them. I also still have some family out there. Overall, I’ve always wanted to become a big leaguer. It is still one of my goals.”

While Knaak’s career at Clemson is young, there is no doubt that he will rely on his Sunshine State roots and competitive mindset to help him find success at this level and beyond.