This is an interview I did with Brandon in April of 2006. At the time, he was pitching for the Double-A Altoona Curve.
Knight made his MLB Debut with the Yankees in 2001, and talks about his experiences here.
EL Extra: Brandon Knight
by Mike Ashmore
April 19, 2006
Eastern League Extra: What would you say is your best moment in baseball?
Brandon Knight: My best moment in baseball was winning the Japanese World Series my first year in Japan, playing for the Fukuoka Hawks. We went to what amounts to the World Series in Japan, and we went to the seventh game and ended up winning that. That was 2003.
ELX: How about your worst moment?
Knight: My worst moment in baseball? Wow, that's a tough one. I'm not really sure if it was a moment in baseball, but I was in New York during September 11th. That was probably the worst moment, that's some what related to baseball.
ELX: You were traded to the Yankees from Texas on December 13, 1999. When you get traded to an organization like the Yankees, what goes through your mind?
Knight: It's kind of a double edged sword. I mean, you're playing for the Yankees, which is a pretty tremendous thing. Plus, when I was traded, I was already playing in Triple-A, so knowing that you're going to go to big league camp with the Yankees and probably get sent to Columbus and be one step away from Yankee Stadium, that was a pretty amazing feeling.
On the other hand, it is the Yankees, and you know they have amazing players throughout the entire lineup and pitching staff, so you know it's going to be hard to break into that rotation or even to get in the bullpen. You just have to go in there and do what you can do and play to the best of your ability. If the right things happen, you're going to get a chance.
ELX: You were a Rule 5 Draft Pick during the 2001 season. What's it like not knowing what organization you're going to be with at the beginning of the year?
Knight: That was a pretty weird situation. I had a feeling that I was going to get picked up in the Rule 5 Draft, so when I got picked up by Minnesota, at that time they really weren't doing anything. So I saw it as a really good opportunity for me to get up there and get a full year in the big leagues and get a chance to make a name for myself. I ended up having a terrible spring, I couldn't get things right, and I got sent back got sent back to the Yankees. That year, that's when (Johan) Santana and (Kyle) Lohse and all those guys, that was their coming out party. It was an interesting situation.
ELX: So you got returned to the Yankees, and they called you up in June of 2001. How did you find out you were going up?
Knight: Actually, I was on my way back from the gym, and my manager, Trey Hillman, called me and he asked if I wanted to go to Japan. I had turned down going to Japan for three straight years before that time, so he said how do you feel about going to Japan, and I just kind of laughed because I already knew what was going on somewhat, because El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) got hurt. A lot of people were telling me I was going to go up, so after I laughed a little bit about the fact that I didn't want to go to Japan, he said you're going to the big leagues, get yourself ready to go, you've got a flight. So it was just get up and go.
ELX: So take me through the whole experience of your big league debut at Yankee Stadium. From walking into the locker room and seeing your jersey hanging up to stepping on a big league mound for the first time, tell me what it was like to become a New York Yankee...
Knight: It was pretty surreal, I really just wanted to take it all in and try not to act too nervous about the whole thing, I wanted to act like I'd already been there. I didn't want to be too awestruck, because then you're head really isn't right, but it's pretty hard not to. Just to leave the hotel and go to Grand Central station and take the train to Yankee Stadium and to walk through the clubhouse, it's like a museum, it's an amazing thing. Then (Mel) Stottlemyre comes up and taps me on the shoulder and tells me we're taking BP in a half an hour because we just started interleague play at that time of year. So here I am, the new guy, and I get a chance to take BP in Yankee Stadium. That was pretty amazing in itself.
I'd already been to two big league camps with those guys, but just to be out there...I'd been around them before, so I wasn't like oh my gosh I'm around all these guys, but to be in that clubhouse and to be in that stadium with all the history behind it, it was pretty amazing.
I didn't pitch the first day, I think it was the second day that I pitched against Baltimore. I was just sitting out there, I wasn't nervous on the first day, because for some reason I just didn't think I was going to pitch. But the second day, I just had this anxiety like this could be it, this could be a possibility. So it ended up that they gave me the call and told me to get up. I forget who was up, I thinking (Mike) Mussina was pitching, and he was getting hit around a little bit. I got hot, they got me going, and that's when I went from being nervous to getting back to work, the nervousness went away. I just started throwing my pitches and I got ready to go.
So I came out, and the first hitter I faced was Jerry Hairston. It was kind of weird, I always imagined myself running out of that gate like Mo (Mariano Rivera) does all the time, with "Enter Sandman" so I could imagine that. But when I came out, I wanted to take it all in. I didn't put my head down, I actually kept my head up and I was looking in the stands. I just wanted to take the whole thing in, I didn't want to forget any of it. I got out there and started throwing my warmup pitches, and all of a sudden the crowd started cheering pretty loud. I thought that was pretty interesting, I wonder what's going on. So I get the ball back and I turn around, and up on the board it says I'm making my Major League debut. I thought that was pretty cool.
So I faced Jerry Hairston, and I struck him out, and it was one of those 'All right, I'm in the big leagues, I'm striking people out' (moments). Cool, this is great. The next guy I faced was Brady Anderson, and I got behind him 2-1 or something like that, and I just hung a changeup and he hit a home run. I was like OK, now I'm back down, back down to reality...yeah, I am in the big leagues. So the next guy I faced was Mike Bordick, and it was the same thing. I think I got him 1-1, and I threw a fastball that went over the middle of the plate, and he hits a home run. There was no booing going on, just an apprehension of OK, so we're really going to get our butts kicked tonight. We were already getting beat pretty bad. But I ended up pitching four innings, and I think after that first inning I gave up one more run, but yeah after that first inning I just got real comfortable and I got into a little groove.
It was just an amazing experience, even before the game, after I got my locker set up and got all my clothes in there, the media guy motions to the media, and in New York there's 25, 26, 30 sometimes, and they just...whoosh, into my locker. And I'm just standing there and there's mics and cameras and it's just question after question. You name it, whether it be baseball related or life related or whatever. To be honest with you, I really enjoyed it. I'm not that big on giving speeches or doing all that much talking, but that was really fun. It was another one of those situations where you're not going to get this chance again, you might as well take advantage of it the best you can and enjoy it. Just enjoy the fact that you're going to have a little bit of notoriety because you're the new kid on the block, it was just a great experience. It was one of things that I'll take to my grave, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
ELX: You talked about working with Mel Stottlemyre a little bit, and you also got to play for Joe Torre. What's it like getting to play for those guys?
Knight: I wish I could say that it was this huge deal, but at the point of my career that I was in, there really wasn't that much going on between Joe and Mel and I. They were more worried about the guys that were going to pitch for them on a regular basis getting their attention. So I'd get a little bit here and there from Mel, he talked to me about my sinker a little bit, because at the time I was struggling a little bit with that, so he helped me out with that. But otherwise it was just a we'll see you when you get out there, good luck. If I pitched well, pat on the back, and if I didn't, nothing. It was just one of those things.
After my first or second time pitching in the big leagues, some of the media people came to my locker and said Joe sees you as a bulldog type, a guy who goes right after hitters. So I got really excited. I was like, 'He said that? Well if he said that, then that's the way it is.' (Laughs)
ELX: Being with that Yankees organization, you got to play with a lot of talented guys. Who would you say is the most talented player you've ever played with?
Knight: Oh, by far, Roger Clemens. The numbers speak for themselves. At that time, he was what, 39? Just to watch the work he puts in every single day and just the work he does before he even gets to the ballpark, and then when gets to the park all the running and all the lifting, he's always working on something. He's always trying to get better, and of course that translates to what you see on the mound. He's just so in control of what he's doing when he's pitching, so he's got to be the most talented person that I've ever been around. And with that talent, he took that talent and that's why he's arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time, because he took the talent that he had and continued to work and work and work and made himself that much better.
ELX: So after everything you've done over the past few years, pitching in the big leagues with the Yankees and pitching in Japan, is it a little frustrating to have to come back to Double-A?
Knight: It's not frustrating. I'm not sure what word to put with it, but it's just interesting, it's kind of a strange chapter of my career. I wasn't expecting all that much. When I came back from Japan, I was there for three years and was making really good money, I didn't have a very good year last year so I knew that I was going to have to come back here and really have to prove myself. It took me a long time to sign with somebody, because I actually thought I was going to be able to go back to Japan, so I got to work on the whole free agency thing with teams in the states really late. A lot of teams were already filled up and a lot of teams just weren't interested.
When I talked to the Pirates, I knew they had genuine interest. When it came to Spring Training, I knew that they had major, major numbers and guys coming down from the big leagues and guys in Triple-A that they really liked. So when they asked me to go to Double-A, I said yeah. It wasn't a blow to my ego or any of that, I knew coming in what I was in for.
To be honest with you, I'm having a great time, I really am having a great time. The guys on this team are great, we've got a really good chemistry and I think it translates to how we've been playing on the field. It's nice, even bus rides are fun for me right now. It is kind of back to the roots of baseball and the camaraderie you have, because you don't have that so much in Japan, there's only three or four of us that speak English. Just trying to mix in with the team there, it's kind of difficult. It's just nice to feel a lot more like a team member, so to answer your question, I'm really enjoying myself. Of course, I'd like to get out of here as soon as possible, but that's a career decision. As far as a personal decision, I'm enjoying myself right now and I'm enjoying getting on the mound every two or three days and trying to pitch the best I can and help this team win.