Niekro thrilled by torrid start of Mets’ knuckler

So, what could possibly top entering the hallowed halls of Cooperstown?

“Watching my 10-year-old grandson (Chase) pitch a perfect game a couple weeks ago. I’ve never experienced a prouder moment,” beamed Phil Niekro, relaxing at Belmont Hills Friday morning.

Before heading out for the the 14th annual golf classic named in his honor, Niekro described the joy of attending a state of Georgia youth tournament where young Chase retired them all.

“He’s way too young to learn the knuckleball. That may have to come later,” smiled Phil.

For now, Niekro has a vested interest in another veteran – the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey, off to a torrid start in 2012.

“I had some good stretches (during a 24-season big league career) but nothing like the one R.A. is currently riding,” Niekro explained.

A first round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 1996, Dickey has enjoyed no more than modest success until now.

Scheduled to take the hill Sunday night in the Subway Series vs. the Yankees, Dickey is 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He’s recorded 103 strikeouts in 99 innings, throwing almost exclusively the knuckler.

“R.A. called me two years ago. We discussed mechanics for throwing the pitch,” Phil advised. “He won 19 games the past two years but is off to an amazing start this season.”

Niekro had an opportunity to witness a Dickey outing last summer in Atlanta. “I had a chance to say hello and also meet his family,” Niekro disclosed.

Perhaps one of Dickey’s stats which has Niekro’s attention this summer is his low number of walks. “He’s only walked 18 which is pretty incredible,” Phil indicated. “You never truly know where the knuckleball is going. When you can throw it with the type command R.A. is showing, that’s really something. I do know he’s full of confidence throwing the pitch right now.”

Niekro also addressed the recent eight-game suspension of Tampa Bay’s Joel Peralta after the Rays’ reliever was detected for having pine tar inside his glove.

“There were some pitchers (during my era) who were occasionally accused of cheating,” Niekro advised. “Some guys are always looking for that extra edge. That’s what it comes down to.”

Phil’s late brother, Joe, was tossed during s 1987 game while pitching for the Twins when umpires examined a baseball, then requested Joe to empty his pockets.

Discovered was an emery board and Niekro was suspended by the American League. “I happened to be pitching the next day in Cleveland,” Phil noted.

“The home plate umpire must have made four or five trips to the mound that day to examine the ball. One thing I can assure you, you don’t need to cheat in any manner if you throw a knuckleball.”

Phil still makes frequent national appearances on behalf of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. “I enjoy it just as much today as I did (when I first entered the Hall).”

Next week, Phil will appear at Bill Mazeroski’s annual celebrity golf outing, scheduled to the Lakeside Resort near Morgantown.

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