The Legacy of Joe Niekro

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This great article was written on the New York Times website about my dad and the Joe Niekro Foundation.

By Tyler Kepner 


Natalie Niekro did not know much about brain aneurysms until one claimed her father, Joe, in 2006. The condition attacked Joe Niekro with sudden and devastating force, and he died at 61, leaving behind Natalie and his two sons, Lance and J.J.

“We could have left him on life support forever,” Natalie said over the phone Sunday night. “But we knew Dad wouldn’t have wanted to live like that.

“The best gift we got out of this was that Dad was able to donate both kidneys, his liver, his eyes and his heart. We got letters from everybody and they all had successful transplants. Maybe someone else is out there now, throwing the knuckleball.”

Lance is giving it his best shot, as a rookie knuckleballer in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league camp after four seasons as a first baseman for the San Francisco Giants. The knuckleball helped Joe Niekro to 221 career victories and his brother, Phil, to 318.

“This is the first time I’ve heard Lance this excited about baseball in a long, long time,” Natalie said.

Natalie, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., is equally excited for her own passion. She is the president of the Joe Niekro Foundation – committed, as the mission statement says, “to aiding in the research and treatment of aneurysm patients and families.” The organization’s gala event is the Knuckle Ball at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“I thought about what Dad enjoyed most in life — he loved to gamble, he loved country music and he loved baseball,” Natalie said. “I said, ‘O.K., I’m going to take these three elements and make them into a fantastic event.’”

Natalie first scheduled the event for last September, selling $500,000 in tickets before Hurricane Ike forced its cancellation. Nobody asked for their money back, she said, and the event has been re-scheduled for July 31 at 6:36 p.m. — the “36” reflecting her father’s uniform number.

The host will be the Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, a teammate of Joe Niekro, and guests will include several other Hall of Famers, including Nolan Ryan, Harmon Killebrew, Goose Gossage, Ozzie Smith and, of course, Phil Niekro. There will be dinner, an auction, casino gaming, and a performance by country music star Collin Raye.

Natalie said she is hoping the event will net $1 million to benefit the neurological institute at Methodist Hospital in Houston, and she has no plans to stop there. “I want to take this nationwide,” she said.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.

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