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WEDNESDAY, JULY 11, 2007
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Knotts back on mound for cash
Brewer grad an all-star in the minors

By Mark Edwards
medwards@decaturdaily.com · 340-2461

Two years after major shoulder surgery, Brewer High graduate Gary Knotts has made his pro baseball league’s all-star game.

OK, so it’s not the major league all-star game. Instead, it’s Wednesday’s all-star game for the Atlantic League, which includes eight independent teams not affiliated with any major league organization.

Knotts has turned into the Newark Bears’ pitching ace, and his performance for the New Jersey-based team has landed him in the league’s big game.

This is a huge step for Knotts, who was a regular in the Detroit Tigers’ pitching rotation before surgery knocked him out of baseball for two years. Before joining Newark this year, he had not pitched in a regular-season professional game since September 2004 with Detroit.

“Going into the season, I didn’t know how my arm would respond to throwing every day,” he said. “Working out back in Decatur, I could throw on my own schedule. I could take two days off if I wanted.

“But my arm felt good in the spring, and as I’ve gotten more work, it feels better.”

While leading Newark to the first-half championship of the North Division, he has posted a 5-5 record and a league-leading 3.01 ERA. He also ranks first in strikeouts (68) and innings pitched (86 2/3).

In his last two starts of the first half, he pitched a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over York on July 2. Then Saturday, he went eight innings and allowed four runs in a 5-4 win over Long Island.

Now he has made the all-star game. The league includes many former major leaguers, and five players selected for the game also have played in the major league All-Star game — pitcher Danny Graves, outfielder Carl Everett and infielders Junior Spivey, Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Offerman.

“My goal is the same as anybody else playing independent league baseball, and that’s to hook up with an affiliated ballclub,” Knotts said. “I’m hoping to be able to sign with a Triple-A team and eventually get back to the majors. I don’t think I’d get a shot to go straight to the majors right away.

Even so, Knotts hopes that’s where his path leads. At 30, he no longer is young enough to be considered a prospect, but he said he’s throwing about as well as he did when he was in the majors. He said his fastball is between 88 and 90 mph, which is slightly down from the 89-91 range he had as a major leaguer.

“But there’s no doubt in my mind that the way I’m throwing, I can get back to the major leagues,” he said.

Knotts pitched in the major leagues for parts of four seasons. After pitching in the Florida Marlins’ organization since 1996, he got to pitch for the big club for parts of the 2001 and ’02 seasons.

The Marlins traded him to Detroit, and after beginning 2003 with the Tigers’ Triple-A team, he moved to the major league team about midway through the season. He spent most of the next year and a half as a starting pitcher.

He had perhaps his best run in the last month of the 2004. In his last five starts, he went 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA. That completed a season in which he went a career-best 7-6, which included two wins over Central Division-winning Minnesota.

But he had shoulder problems in the summer of 2004 and spent time on the disabled list. He was told it was bursitis, but in the spring of 2005, the problem didn’t go away. The speed on his fastball decreased, he couldn’t throw the ball with the control he once had, and his shoulder was in pain.

He had reconstructive surgery in July 2005 and has bided his time at home in Decatur, rehabilitating his shoulder so he could pitch again.

“It’s taken all of 2005 and 2006 to get back,” he said. “I was 28 when I had surgery, and now I’m 30. That’s a lot, considering that baseball players have a short amount of time to make a lot of money.”

But for now at least, he is an All-Star — and about to be a new father. Knotts said that wife Amanda is in her 15th week
of pregnancy with their first child.

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