In the week since getting the call most young baseball players dream of, Jordan Knutson has been busy settling in a new city and preparing to embark on his professional career.
And he is nowhere near a ballpark.
Knutson got that call June 14 from the Detroit Tigers, who selected the left-handed pitcher from Missouri State and Lee’s Summit High School in the 24th round with the 725th overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft. His response? Thanks, but no thanks.
“Way before the draft happened I was pretty set I wasn’t going to sign,” Knutson said Wednesday in a phone interview from Tulsa, Okla., where he will begin work Monday as a field engineer for Crossland Construction. “Getting drafted was cool, but it was pretty easy to stick with my gut and turn it down and move on with things.”
Knutson was ready to move on from baseball, even after a stellar four years at Missouri State and an All-State career at Lee’s Summit. Rather than being told one day he couldn’t play anymore, he wanted to leave the game on his own terms, and getting drafted made his decision to walk away easier.
“I think having the opportunity to where I close the door on baseball instead of baseball closing the door on me makes it a little easier knowing that I’m not going to pitch in a game anymore,” Knutson said. “There wasn’t any pressure and I didn’t second-guess saying no to that offer.”
Knutson had major-league ambitions when he came to Missouri State after being named All-State and Suburban Gold Conference player of the year after his senior season at Lee’s Summit. But by the end of his junior year, his ambitions changed. A real job seemed more appealing, and he wanted to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in construction science and graduate after his senior year.
He made that decision clear to the scouts who came down to watch him this season at Missouri State. He told them he wouldn’t be the typical “senior sign,” a late-round collegian usually offered a signing bonus in the $5,000 range. He wasn’t expecting the kind of life-altering money that would make him change his plans.
“I didn’t think the money value matched up with the opportunity to finish my degree,” Knutson said. “This year, I was pretty set. Whenever I got calls during the draft they would say, ‘hey would you sign for X amount?’ And I’d say, ‘No.’”
That didn’t dissuade the Tigers, who watched Knutson as he picked up a pair of wins and a save during the Bears’ NCAA Fayetteville Regional title run earlier this month. Knutson hadn’t heard from the Tigers all year, which he said made the pick a little surprising. And he first heard the news not from the Tigers, but from friends texting him congratulations.
“Then their guy called me and said the draft is moving really quick and we didn’t have time to make calls. We just had to make a pick and see what we could make out of it, so we took you,” Knutson said. “They knew going into it I was going to be a difficult senior sign, but they still didn’t throw a whole lot of money at me. So it kind of made the decision pretty easy.”
Knutson admits that if the Tigers or anyone else had offered him “ridiculous money,” he might still be playing baseball. But for the most part he’s glad no one did. He’s happy to hang them up after what he accomplished at Missouri State, where he ranks among the Bears’ top 10 in all-time appearances (68), starts (46), innings pitched (281.0), victories (21) and strikeouts (247). This spring he went 8-4 with a 4.53 ERA as the Bears went 43-20 and made their third-ever NCAA Super Regional appearance.
“You can’t ask for a better way to step away from baseball than the run that Missouri State had this year,” Knutson said. “We’ve only been to three super regionals in school history and I was part of two of them, so it’s kind of special to end it at basically the highest point that I’ve been at.”
Knutson said there could be a day where he wants to get back into baseball, but it won’t be any time soon. For now, he’d rather be on a construction site than a pitcher’s mound.
“Right now I’m just enjoying the life away from baseball,” Knutson said. “It’s been a long time since I wasn’t playing baseball somewhere or worrying about baseball or practicing or something.”