CLEARWATER, FL—Johnathan Knight is still living the dream, nearly two years later.
Back in June, 2011, the Sebring High School star turned 18, graduated, and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies.
An eventful week and one he still reflects on as he tries to keep the dream alive in his second year with the organization.
“This right here (playing professionally) wasn’t in mind,” he said. “I didn’t think about this until it actually happened. It was kind of surprising.”
Knight, selected in the 49th round, did not see regular playing time or face quality opponents until his senior year in high school.
“I hadn’t seen pitching over 85 miles per hour,” said Knight. “That became the best baseball I had experienced from a competitive standpoint.”
But Knight wasn’t discouraged.
“I knew I was good, but I wasn’t the best,” he said. “There were better players and I knew this. So I had one year to prove that I could play, to get noticed by scouts and to draw interest from universities.”
The Sebring, Fl native made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Phillies last spring and knows that he has a job that most 19-year-olds would envy.
“It’s awesome, everybody doesn’t quite understand it yet,” he said.
“But from my perspective–when I look back four years–I couldn’t have even imagined me sitting here or even playing professional baseball. It wasn’t even an option, but it shows that if you put in hard work and determination, there’s no limit. You can do whatever you want.”
The 6-foot-3, 192-pounder, always had high aspirations for himself, regardless of those who tried to discourage him.
“People would say that’s out of reach [pursing baseball as a career], but in my mind it has never been out of reach,” said Knight. I thought that if other people were doing it, then I could too.”
“Once I signed that contract, it kind of made me happy for all the people that said I wasn’t going to make it and told me to do something realistic like working at McDonald’s. But I thought I would be able to get to my goal, so it was pretty cool to get the contract and show everyone that if you work hard you can accomplish your goals even if you come from a small town.”
Knight was blown away when he realized he would finally have a chance to pursue his dream.
“I watched these people play on TV since I was a kid,” he said. And now I can be that person, I have a foot in the door.”
“I don’t want to mess up, so I come out here and try as hard as I can–sick or hurt–doesn’t matter, I come out here and keep doing it. Its like any other job, you keep working toward it. If I want to be a major league baseball player, I will have to put in the time and the effort.”
Last season, the outfielder made his debut with the Gulf Coast League Phillies and batted .186, hit two home runs and drove in two RBI in 43 at bats over 26 games.
Knight knows there is room for improvement and believes that having the right mind-set is key.
“The mental game is the biggest part,” he said. “If you are mentally there, it makes the game easier. Sometimes you can think too much and that will mess you up, but you learn the game as you go along.”
“Right now I know half of baseball, but once I start learning and getting to know the deal, then I will start to think about it the right way and once you have the mental game you’re set.”
As Knight goes about his job, he realizes that he is growing up quickly.
“I feel older than what I am, not physically, but maturity wise,” he said. I’m over here playing baseball. I’m over here by myself–my parents are at home.”
“What other 19 year olds are doing that? I started this when I was barely 18 and I’ve been out here for a little bit. It changes you and makes you more mature, but this is the best place for me.”
Playing baseball everyday, Knight knows that he couldn’t ask for a better job, but he stresses the importance of staying grounded
“I’m just a down to earth person,” he said. If you meet Ryan Howard [for example], you realize he’s a regular guy. You meet me and realize I’m a regular person but with a unique job, that’s how it’s always going to be.
The pace is moving quickly for Knight, but he will do his best to keep up.
“It still feels like I’m 17, but now I’m almost 20. Time just goes man, you can’t stop it.”