When examining the defending champion Middleboro Mocka Rays 13-2 start to the 2021 season, you will see Mike Knell’s offensive dominance right at the heart of the action. He has led his teams in both hits and RBIs this season. His 17 hits and 19 RBIs has earned him a 2021 Boston Men’s Baseball League All-Stars selection for the MABL 18+ division in addition to being awarded the Offensive Player of the Month in June.
Knell entered the league in 1999 with Boston Braves, after turning down an accounting job at the firm Coopers and Lybrand, where the manager, Jeff Gauthier, referred him to this league. Knell currently works as the Chief Accounting Officer at Charles River Laboratories. In addition, he is currently in his 19th season coaching his children’s soccer and basketball teams.
Knell is currently playing in his 23rd season in the Boston Men’s Baseball League with his fifth different team, which has resulted in six championships. He played every position on the field and currently has 432 career hits, scored 272 runs, and knocked in 280 RBIs in the process.
“I played on a lot of great teams hitting in the middle of the order,” said Knell. “Hitting is contagious. When you are playing with a lot of great players, you get a lot of extra at-bats.”
His advice to players who are struggling offensively is to “not think too much” at the plate and “to go back to basics and hit some line drives.”
Playing on the third team of his career, he won two championships with Netherfield Reds from 2005-2009, winning the titles in 2006 and 2008. He recalled that his favorite championship from that time period came in 2008 when his team pulled off a surprising upset of the Boston Tigers team that entered the matchup with a 24-2 record to open the postseason. The Reds entered the series as an underdog with an 11-13 record and only 10 players qualified to play in the postseason.
The teams split the first two games in convincing fashion. The Reds won game 1, 11-5, while the Tigers pitched an 8-0 shutout three nights later in game two to even the series and set up a win or go home matchup in the series finale.
The Tigers mounted an early 4-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Reds flipped the script, scoring all 11 of their runs in their final three innings and surrendering just three runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap the scoring. Knell finished the game with three hits and three RBIs to help pace the offense.
They proceeded to complete two “grueling” five-game series against the Senators and Athletics to complete the championship run with each series going the distance. Netherfield was undefeated in elimination games that postseason with a 3-0 record.
Knell recalls his favorite personal performance came game three of the 2008 championship series against the Athletics where he fired a complete game, surrendering just two runs on three hits and striking out seven hitters along the way. He escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam in the first to keep his team in the game, helping his team to earn a close 3-2 win to give his team a 2-1 series. This performance was critical because no other pitchers were available for the Reds at the time.
“It was one of those (games) where everything goes our way and it was sort of destiny,” said Knell. “You sort of had a magical feel about that team.”
Offensively, he added a .320 average and lead his team in both hits (16) and RBIs (12) that postseason, marking his best offensive postseason performance of his career in both categories. Knell’s teams earned playoff berths in 20 of his 22 previous seasons. This included four championships between 2012-2020 with the Cambridge Spinners and Middleboro Mocka Rays.
Knell’s top performances of this season came during back-to-back games against the Boston Jakes (2-11), and Waltham Cutters (9-4) on June 20 and 24. He combined to go 5 for 8 with seven RBIs and one strikeout during that stretch helping the Mocka Rays outscore the Jakes and Cutters 31-3 in the process.
“Any time you can bring a player of Knell’s caliber to a team it’s a big get,” said Mocka Rays manager Tyler Ferdinand. “His veteran presence as well as being a proven MABL champion has helped us get over the hump we were stuck on the last couple of years.”
Unfortunately, two days later he would suffer a torn upper left quad against the Singing Surgeons. As a result of two games being postponed due to inclement weather, he only missed one contest against the Boston Jakes. His doctor informed him the injury would heal in about 4-6 weeks.
“I hit a gapper and was thinking a home run and I was about to round first and I heard a loud pop,” said Knell. “Getting old sucks.”
He returned to action in Friday night’s contest against the Waltham Athletics, finishing 1 for 3 with a single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. However, a complete-game shutout by Athletics’ starter Alec Christian spoiled his return as the Mocka Rays were defeated 1-0, snapping a six-game winning streak.
Mike Knell and the Mocka Rays will seek redemption in the team’s rematch against the Waltham Athletics at Nipper Park in Waltham on Wednesday night. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m.