CHATHAM — With friends, family and coaches looking on, Chatham baseball standouts Tyler Kneller and Matt Thorsen signed their national letters of intent to continue their education and athletic careers at the next level during a ceremony at Chatham High School on Wednesday morning.
Kneller will be attending the College of Saint Rose in Albany in the Fall, while Thorsen will be headed to Northeastern University in Boston.
Chatham baseball coach Scott Steltz couldn’t have been prouder of his two star players that played key roles in helping the Panthers win their first-ever New York State Class C baseball championship this past spring.
“It’s like the icing on the cake,” Steltz said. “Very proud of them, the community support, it was just an awesome moment.
“We never like to single anybody out, but they are definitely pillars of our team and pillars of our school. I talk to my wife and other adults all the time about one of the best characteristics I like about them and a lot of our kids is they are relationship kids.
“They will come find you, they will talk to you, they are genuinely interested, but what I think what’s really unique about them is in game or after a game they will find younger kids and engage them, and the rest of the world doesn’t matter to my guys. That is the coolest thing because they’re building the bridge for our next generation to come through and you want our kids to follow these guys. To me, you couldn’t have two better role models in that regard.”
Kneller considered several schools, but in the end, the College of Saint Rose had everything he was looking for.
“There was a big conflict with everything that went on. Basically, when I got involved with the whole recruitment it was the middle of the summer of my junior year and a lot of coaches started hitting me up for the PBR State games. I had a lot of visits, went to a bunch of different Division I schools and was just trying to figure out what was the best for me.
“When I went to Saint Rose, it was a lower division so I had different expectations going into the whole thing, but the biggest thing for me was their coaching staff and I felt super comfortable at the end of the day. They had a good, positive outlook and to be honest, the scholarship got offered was the best out of any school I looked at. So to be able to go to Saint Rose with a full ride to play baseball, which was my dream, what could be wrong with that?”
Kneller said the entire recruiting experience got a little crazy at times, but enjoyed it, overall.
“It was a little bit stressful, but I kind of like that feeling, though,” he explained. “Everyone was like ‘I want you to come here, I want you to come here,’and I had a lot of decisions to make, but I kind of broke it down step by step, I kind of just split everything up and molded it for my own sake.
“I tried to be balanced with how I felt about each college. But Saint Rose, what they had to offer, what they had to offer coaching-wise and the potential I saw for our class coming in. The Class that I was working with in our grade, the Class of ’23, is phenomenal with athletes from across the Section II border. I saw a bunch of kids coming in that were good and that I knew and when we all get there I think we’ll be really dominant.”
Kneller, whose Dad Rich was a standout athlete at Chatham in the 80’s, has been involved in sports since a young age and had plenty of help along the way.
“The journey has been awesome,” Kneller said. “I’ve been playing sports since I was a little kid. The All-Stars Academy guys, Matt Frey and Curtis Nobles, hooked me up a lot with connections outside of everything, being able to get me some exposure. Dennis Healy, he was the pitching coach for Wake Forest for awhile, he works with the Barnstormers in Latham and I did lessons after lessons with him, getting my mechanics right was a huge thing, too, so I thank him for that.
“But along the way, my Pops helped me a lot and was always there telling me ‘you have to get to practice, another day to grind.’ The journey has been surreal. I couldn’t have asked for a better sports career.”
Kneller is especially thankful for Steltz, who has been more than a coach to him.
“Scott has been everything to me, not just a coach, a mentor, a father figure, he builds a different connection with the kids around him,” Kneller said. “He’s been a big part of it just mentally. If I’m having a bad day where it’s going to be a bad day at practice for me, you come in and talk to him and he’ll get you right mentally. He’s been great for me mentally, on and off the field.”
Steltz has enjoyed his time coaching Kneller and couldn’t be prouder of his prize pupil.
“It’s been a fun journey, watching him grow,” Steltz said. “Tyler is probably the most inquisitive kid I’ve every coached. I’ve had a lot of kids, but that’s what makes him Tyler and that’s what makes him successful. He is always looking for the slightest edge and his energy is off the charts. The things he brings to the team, his passion, his energy, his love for the game, his teammates and he’s, obviously, super competitive, too. I think those things are what make Tyler Tyler. It’s awesome to be a part of and it’s a reflection of his family and the community.”
Steltz feels Kneller made a very good decision in choosing Saint Rose.
“I think Saint Rose is an awesome fit,” Steltz said. “I’m a little biased. I’ve coached with Smoke Allard, the pitching coach, I’ve had a couple of players that played for Wayne (Jones) or worked with him, and nothing but praise, and Anthony Amoroso, the grad assistant there, lived at my house for three years for summer ball. Anthony is just an older version of Tyler. I think that whole program up there is headed in the right direction, but they’re people persons first and that’s Tyler. He’s a relationship guy, so it’s a perfect fit and he’s in great hands.
Earning a college scholarship to play baseball has always been a priority for Kneller, but he doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“For me, I’ve always had a dream with sports. My goal in any sport was to make it far and now I’ve had an opportunity to excel in a different sport and baseball, I love, and to be able to succeed that way, that’s what drove me the whole time.
“I want to be able to get to that next level. Pro would be an awesome thing, but I have a Plan B, but that’s the goal, to be able to go pro. Striving every day to be great and to build muscle and to get better mentally, everything to help your game, it’s paid off, but we have to keep going.”
Now that his college decision has been made, Kneller can focus on his senior year at Chatham and he plans on making it a memorable one.
“We’re going to come back, I think stronger that ever,” he predicted. “As our senior year, I want to lay everything on the line. This is it for me, this is my last ride, so I have nothing to lose. We’re going to come strong for every time we play and along the way we’re going to fight adversity through some games, but the future holds anything and the sky’s the limit. We’re going to get another one.”
Thorsen, who joined the Chatham varsity team as an eighth grader, explained why he chose Northeastern.
“I think the biggest thing that stuck out to me was the coaching staff,” Thorsen explained. “They were always great to me, they made me feel like family every time I stepped on campus and I really think that was the outlier that Northeastern had over other schools I was talking to.
“I visited three or four times and every single time I loved it even more, so it was a no doubter for me.”
Northeastern was just one of many schools Thorsen considered.
“St. John’s, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Elon, Stony Brook. There were a bunch, but the location, the coaching staff and just the history of the team and the way they run the team is what did it.”
Thorsen spoke of the journey that led to his earning a Division I scholarship.
“It was definitely a grind, but when I was younger,” he said. “Covid is what really put me up in my game, I would say. It really had us all locked down, so I had more time and so I was either going to do nothing or work on my game. All-Stars Academy was also one of the biggest steps in my life that led me to this point.”
Chatham baseball coach Scott Steltz has played a key role in Thorsen’s development since Day 1
“I’ve been with coach Steltz since I was in fourth or fifth grade,” Thorsen said. “I was a bat boy and then I just grew up playing. I played JV in seventh grade and varsity since my eighth grade year and Scott has been like a second father to me. He created a home on the baseball field when I was away from my real home, I love the guy, he’s a great coach and I’ll never forget the Chatham baseball program.”
Thorsen said he appreciates all the help he received in helping him achieve his goals.
“I’m super grateful for what I have and the people around me,” he said. “Ever since I was a younger kid in baseball, everybody knew baseball was my passion, everybody supported me and I’m super grateful for the people in the community.”
Steltz feels Thorsen and Kneller feed off each other’s energy and that the sky’s the limit for both.
“Matt is the same as Tyler in a lot of regards, but different also,” Steltz said. “He is more like a leader by example, a communicator in-game and I think they feed off of each other, with competitive streaks. The fact that they are buddies like they are is only an advantage for us. Matt has an extreme passion for baseball, he has since he was little. When you talk baseball with Matt he lights up and he’s also got a great program. You’ve got Tom Glavine’s brother as head coach. Great place, great program and I couldn’t be happier for the both of them.