By Bob Elliott
As Matt Kniginyzky was working his way up the Kansas City Royals ladder not a lot of good things were happening in the penthouse.
During the right-hander’s five seasons in the Royals chain K.C. averaged roughly 97 losses a season under three different managers.
Yet, Kniginyzky saw good signs sharing clubhouses, buses and dugouts with Alex Gordon, Greg Holland, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, who will all be getting World Series rings on opening day.
“It was nice to see those guys win, no matter how far removed you are, they all worked their butts off,” said Kniginyzky, inducted into the Ontario Blue Jays Hall of Fame Saturday night in Woodbridge.
Slugger Paul Brown of Grande Pointe and Brampton outfielder Mike Hook, who both played for coach Gary Wilson, were also inducted at the fifth annual banquet.
Sportsnet’s Gregg Zaun, himself a Royal (class of 2000-01), was the guest speaker.
The organization that drafted Kniginyzky knocked off the New York Mets in the Series after eliminating the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I was kind of torn when (KC) played Toronto, I’m not sure if I can give you an answer as to who I was cheering for,” said the Mississauga resident. “It was awesome to see the excitement surrounding Toronto the way it was in October.”
He pitched at rookie-class Idaho Falls, class-A Burlington, rookie-class Arizona League Royals, class-A Wilmington (9-8, 3.57 in 27 starts) earning Royals minor league pitcher of the year and double-A Northwest Arkansas from 2005-to-09.
Drafted in the 23rd round from the High Point University Panthers in 2005, Kniginyzky was selected the same year Gordon went in the first round. Kniginyzky’s final two seasons with Holland he saw the reliever walk 54 and strike out 144 in 129 2/3 innings at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas.
“He had one of those ‘click’ moments at Wilmington, he was in the bullpen, they made him a starter and then put him back in the bullpen,” Kniginyzky said. “He always threw hard and kept inching up.”
Of the current Royals, Kniginyzky spent the longest time with Holland, who had 78 saves the previous two seasons. He saw green catcher Sal Perez on a rehab assignment.
A highlight each spring for Kniginyzky was when Hall of Famer George Brett would address Royals minor leaguers.
“George is awesome, he’s such a good dude,” said Kniginyzky, “man he can tell stories. Spoke every year and never told the same story.
“He never made you feel like you were around a Hall of Famer.”
After playing for coaches Joe Parisani and Dan Bleiwas with the Ontario Blue Jays he was 26-28 with a 4.13 ERA in 102 games, making 79 starts. In his in his five pro seasons he played with other future major leaguers Mike Sweeney, Everett Teaford, Anthony Lerew, Victor Marte and Dan Cortes.
Kniginyzky comes from good genes. His father Roman, a High Park grad, who lined balls into the gaps at Christie Pitts and Talbot Park.
Former Jays coach Wilson once called Brown the “best pure hitter,” he ever coached. Of course, not many hitters go 12-for-12 their first weekend. Brown, now 37, played at Paris Junior College before transferring to the University of Louisville.
As a senior, Brown batted .300 with an .958 OPS in 49 games with six homers and 28 RBIs. The year before he hit .264 with 19 RBIs in 37 games before injuring his knee.
Induction ceremonies are nothing new to the Brown family. His brother Roger Brown, an NAIA first-team all-American, was inducted into the Trevecca Nazarene College Hall in 2003 with a .359 career average, 49 doubles, 49 homers and 189 RBIs.
Hook played at Winthrop University and Louisville. Both Brown and Hook were part of the 1997 Ontario Blue Jays which reached the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M.
Former major leaguers Pete Orr, Scott Thorman, Adam Stern and Shawn Hill have already been inducted.
Ontario Blue Jays Awards
Alumni, pro: Josh Naylor, Mississauga, Miami Marlins.
Alumni, college: Daniel Pinero, Toronto, University of Virginia
Dedication and Perseverance: Tanner Zeggil, Stayner.
Organization MVPs; Kevin Dion, Newmarket, Max Hewitt, Barrie.
Pitchers of the Year: R.J. Freure, Burlington, Stu Martin, Ajax.
Coach of the Year: Colin Tyler, Toronto, 18u Red.