‘A passion for the game’

Rick Kneisel credits a couple of well-known Clinton Countians with introducing him to baseball, something that became his passion.

As he reflected on his baseball career, Kneisel found out he had that same impact on many of those he’s coached over the years.

Last week, Dec. 9, the 1968 graduate of Wilmington High School was inducted into the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel & Convention Center.

“It’s the best Christmas gift I could have,” said Kneisel, who coached baseball many years in Georgia before returning to Wilmington where he now resides. He also was inducted in 2021 into the Ohio University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the 1970 OU baseball team that went to the College World Series.

Kneisel was one of five inductees into the Georgia statewide baseball organization’s class of 2023. Kneisel was head coach at Peachtree and Dunwoody high schools. At Dunwoody, he had a 213-98-1 record. The two schools merged after Kneisel coached at Peachtree one season.

Dunwoody finished as state runners-up in 1990, losing to national power Evans High School in game 3 of the state championship when an Evans player stole home. Kneisel was named state Coach of the Year that season and also was named the Atlanta Braves Coach of the Year.

Kneisel went to Lassiter High School as an assistant coach beginning in 1998-99. Lassiter won the Georgia and national championships in 1999 and then won the state title again in 2006, which was Kneisel’s last year with the school. In 1999, he was named Georgia Assistant Coach of the Year.

Kneisel was president of the Dugout Club when it served the greater Atlanta area in 1988 before becoming a statewide organization. He also was the Teacher of the Year in DeKalb County in 1988 and again in 2005 with Cobb County Schools.

Kneisel said he began playing baseball back in the 1950s at J.W. Denver Williams Jr. Memorial Park with coaches Russ Roberts and Joe Fife, both of whom have died.

“Great people to get you introduced in to baseball,” said Kneisel, who coached the Wilmington baseball team three seasons. “I have a passion for the game. I would still be coaching but this body just won’t let me.”

Kneisel’s influence on others, though maybe not known right away, is strong. Since word got out of his induction, Kneisel has heard from people from various points of his coaching and teaching careers.

“It’s a remarkable thing,” he said. “Very humbling experience. My daughter posted something and the response from old players, old students, colleagues, teachers has been overwhelming.

“Sometimes in coaching and teaching, you don’t know if you’ve made a difference … you don’t get immediate satisfaction or reward. But this was overwhelming, very humbling.”