The stage in Texas was set, Opening Day, April 8, 1991. Mark "Knuttie" Knudson, the fourth option as Opening Day starter, of the Milwaukee Brewers versus future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers. The 41st president of the United States George H. W. Bush was in attendance.
"I was teammates with Nolan [Ryan] in Houston when I first came up and I admired him greatly. He is a tremendous person as well as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
"That day sounds a lot better than it was. [Ryan] didn't pitch very well that day, and I didn't pitch very well that day. There was so much hoopla before the game, President Bush throwing out the first pitch, [the Rangers] unveiled the statue of Nolan before the game, stuff like that. It was great to be out there [and be] the winning pitcher, but it certainly wasn't my best outing."
So, not quite the pinnacle of Knudson's career, a 5-4 defeat of the Rangers, but it was a moment for the ages and a moment that he will never forget.
"The year before , in July, I threw two shutouts in 10 days and won three games in 11 days in three straight starts. I threw a shutout in Oakland, beat Jim Abbott, 3-1, in Anaheim, and threw a shutout in Milwaukee. So that right there [was] pretty memorable. I would have to say that was my best performance."
To Mark, baseball was more than a sport, it was a long-awaited journey. It was a roller-coaster of ups and downs since high school.
"I had no delusions about being drafted out of high school. I wasn't even six feet tall, weighed about 165 pounds -- not big. I was not a prospect as a senior in high school. I was a late bloomer.
"I only had one scholarship offer from Western State College in Gunnison, Col., where you don't play a home game until late May because of the snow."
From an early age, Knudson knew that writing was something he wanted to pursue in his future, whether that future included baseball or not, and he knew that Western State College was not the right institution to further his journalism career.
"I was the sports editor of my school paper in high school; I took over that job as a sophomore. I took to [writing] real early on and was lucky that I knew what I wanted to study in college well before I went to college. It's always been something I really loved to do.
"[Western State] was not going to further my baseball career or my career in journalism. So, I walked on at Colorado State University and got a scholarship my second semester. I picked CSU more for the school than for baseball. It wasn't a baseball hotbed, there were certainly better baseball schools. [But] I liked the school a lot, and I got an opportunity to play baseball and I was happy with the decision."
The first two years at Colorado State, Knudson got bigger, stronger, and put much more speed on his fastball while developing his other pitches. But the roller-coaster continued as Knudson went from being a high prospect after his sophomore year at Colorado State to falling off the radar his junior year.
"I was a late bloomer but [I] got bigger and stronger during my first couple of years in college and became a prospect by the time I was a sophomore. The scouts started calling me, and everybody showed up to games with radar guns. But I had a very bad junior year. We changed coaches, and I had some conflicts with [him] trying to change my mechanics around. Had I been eligible after my sophomore year, I would have been drafted, but I regressed my junior year and scouts backed away and I did not get drafted."
Knudson continued to work on his game because baseball was something that he couldn't just quit. He had to keep fighting, to keep working, making sure to render all the doubts and "what ifs" floating around in his head.
"[Baseball] was an outlet for my competitive drive; it was something that I had an aptitude for. I was more successful at baseball than I was in anything else I tried, so that fueled the fire. The more I worked on it, the better I got and the more success I had, it just kept building."
Knudson marked a turning point in his baseball career, a factor that he said led to the Astros drafting him in the third round of the 1982 draft.
"A local scout said, 'Let's work together this offseason.' So I worked with him, and we actually turned things around. I got back to the way I pitched my sophomore year. I was fortunate to get some breaks and get seen by scouts."
"The scout I was working with was a scout for the [Cincinnati] Reds at the time and said he was going to watch me throw and maybe we can get me a contract for pro ball. I was excited about it. We were supposed to play in Topeka, Kan., the next morning but the night before, the game was canceled because of a horrid storm that had blown through the Midwest. We turned around and went back to Denver, and we [Knudson and the scout] never made the connection. The next day Major League Baseball went on strike.
"That turned out to be a real blessing because I would have signed a contract with him being a free agent, low priority player and who knows if I would have had a real opportunity. I went back to school and had a real good senior year and got drafted by the Astros in the third round. When you're a third-round draft choice, they'll give you every opportunity to succeed."
Knudson made his Major League debut with the Astros on July 8, 1985, against the Philadelphia Phillies after two years in the minor league system. Knudson's first big league appearance was also his first big league start and his first big league loss as he allowed seven earned runs in seven innings.
Knudson appeared in only nine games, seven starts, for Houston in the 1986 season before the Astros traded him to Milwaukee along with pitcher Don August in exchange for pitcher Danny Darwin on Aug. 15.
Knudson recorded a 6-18 record with a 5.15 ERA in 48 games, 26 starts, with the Astros and Brewers from his debut in 1985 to the end of the 1988 season. Knudson, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, was given opportunities to establish himself as a starter but had yet to do so in the Majors.
The 1989 season proved to be a breakout year for the righty, as he established himself as a starter by posting a 6-1 record with a 2.23 ERA in seven starts for the Brewers. Knudson appeared in 40 games for Milwaukee, concluding the year with a 8-5 record with a 3.35 ERA.
He continued the following season, 1990, as a starter in the Brewers' rotation and proved to be the most consistent starter, making 27 starts in 30 appearances, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.12 ERA. Shoulder tendinitis sidelined him in late August, and upon returning, Knudson went 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA in his last three starts. Before the injury, Knudson was 10-6 with a 3.55 ERA.
Coming into Spring Training in 1991, Knudson continued his roller-coaster ride having to prove himself once again as a legitimate starter on the Brewers' staff and battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation with left-hander Kevin Brown. Knudson understood the determination he needed to prove he belonged in the starting rotation.
"For me, [baseball] was one step at a time. In high school, it was all about getting the chance to play in college and get a college scholarship. When I got into college, it became, 'Gee, I'd love to get a shot in the minor leagues.' When you get drafted and go into the minor leagues, it becomes, 'Now I want to get into the big leagues.'"
Knudson retired from baseball in 1993 after fulfilling another dream of his: playing for his hometown team, the Colorado Rockies. His time in Denver was brief -- he appeared in only four games for the Rockies -- but memorable for the Colorado-native.
"I grew up in Denver, so it was ironic that I got to play at Mile High Stadium. I worked there in high school and [during] the first couple of years in college. It was great to go back there as a player. I was the first, and still am, home-grown product to play for the Rockies. They can never take that away. It didn't go that well for me, but I still get referred to as a former Rockie. [Playing for the Rockies] was very much one of my dreams."
Knudson now turns to his other passions -- his family, his writing, and yes, college football.
Knudson currently works for Mile High Sports Magazine, a monthly sports magazine in which he does "a number of things, including [writing] a column." He also has a syndicated column on rocksportsnet.com in addition to writing for five regional papers.
Knudson also plans on writing a book someday.
"Time is in short supply around my house. Writing a book takes a big time commitment, and I don't really have that time available to me at the moment but I still aspire to do that. I have a lot of books running around in my head. I have a lot of stories that I could write about."
When asked how long he thought he would continue to write, his response should be of no surprise: "Writing is something you do up until the day you are six feet under. I love it; it's one of the funnest things I do. I don't see any reason to stop doing it. I retired once already from baseball, I don't anticipate retiring again."
In addition to his freelance writing, Knudson is also the Radio Director for Coloradoans for Nebraska (CFN), a radio station that broadcasts the University of Nebraska football games in the Colorado area. "College football is a big passion for me. I'm a Heisman Trophy voter, and I do college radio. My family is from Nebraska so I'm a big Cornhusker fan. Baseball remains right up there, though."
Knudson stays extremely busy between work and his family. Knudson has a five-year-old daughter and 11-year-old triplets. One of the triplets, his only son, is autistic. With a wife, four children, five papers, two columns, and a radio station, we may not see a book from Mark Knudson for another 10 to 15 years.
When Knudson reflects on his playing days, he recalls one pure, lasting image he has always carried with him -- his teammates.
"The worst thing you can say about somebody is that they were a bad teammate. The best thing you can say about somebody is what a good teammate they were, and I was really lucky to be teammates with people like Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner. All the guys I saw when I was younger and then got the chance to be teammates with them and see how they held themselves as professionals, on and off the field. It was a life lesson. Being teammates with those guys for the years I was teammates with them was a life lesson about giving it all you got every single time out. That's one of, if not, my best memory of my time in professional baseball -- the great players and the great people I was around."
Carrie Sirabian is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.