The high socks and playoff mustaches the Plankinton Bankers rocked on Wednesday at Cadwell Park was a new look for the usual clean-cut Cole Knippling.
“I keep telling (my wife, Amy) I want to keep it,” Knippling said. “We did staches for playoffs, but my wife says it needs to go.”
Mustache or not, it was hard to miss his 6-foot-4 frame in the batter’s box or at first base during the Bankers’ 14-1 eight-inning loss to the Dell Rapids Mudcats in the state amateur baseball tournament.
Knippling, 36, wasn’t drawing up plays as the Mitchell High School girls basketball coach, rather launching a moonshot over the right field fence that he jokingly predicted during batting practice earlier in the day. His first amateur baseball season after an eight-year hiatus came to an end Wednesday, but for 19 games this summer, he transformed back into the hard-hitting left-handed batter he was growing up.
“It was such a fun year for me,” Knippling said. “I don’t think I realized how much I missed amateur baseball. There’s nothing like it.”
He wanted to return to the diamond to give his kids a chance to be around the baseball fields, just like when he watched his parents play softball as a kid. It grew his love for the game, and he wanted to offer his kids the same memory of watching their dad.
Knippling had previously played for the Kennebec-Chamberlain Cannons, Vermillion Red Sox and in Elk Point. Still, even as a Chamberlain native, it was an easy call to Plankinton manager and outfielder Chris Hill, who he knew from when the Cannons would pick Hill in the pick-up player draft for the state tournament.
“He was an easy first call,” Knippling said. “The only call I had to make was to someone I had known for a long time, and thankfully he gave me a chance. It was a lot of fun.”
Despite an eight-year layoff, Knippling started to mash baseballs like he never left the game. The display of power he flashed on Wednesday was a snapshot into his season with the Bankers. He tied Alex Loes for a team-high five home runs, helping him drive in a team-best 24 RBIs. Knippling hit .412 with a .500 on-base percentage in 82 plate appearances (68 at-bats).
It was a continuation of his decorated baseball career that saw him star at Chamberlain and Mount Marty.
Even if he went to Mount Marty with intentions to be a basketball player, he first blossomed in baseball growing up and eventually transitioned into a two-sport athlete for the Lancers.
Knippling earned All-American honorable mention in baseball. This year, he was part of the inaugural South Dakota High School Baseball hall of fame class.
“I was just happy someone remembered I used to play. It was a long time ago,” Knippling said. “That was a neat deal. I was very humbled by the honor, especially being part of the first class. A lot of fun memories.”
The Bankers only played one game in Plankinton -- an exhibition to end the season -- due to its city council closing its parks for the summer, but Knippling noted the fan support during their purple vs. gold game and on Wednesday as what made this season special.
Knippling doesn’t expect another eight years to pass before he gets another at-bat, or chance to grow another playoff stache.
“As long as my wife lets me,” Knippling jokingly said. “We have four young kids at home that Amy has to wrangle while I get to have fun playing baseball. I know it is tough on her but I appreciate her letting me keep playing a game I love.”