Niekro makes annual stop at tournament
When you put your name on something, it’s only fitting that you support the cause, no matter what it is.
Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is one person that has never, and I stress never, forgotten where he came from.
Fifteen years ago, “Knucksie,” along with a couple of dear friends (Brian Schambach, Don Cash and Gordie Longshaw), started the Phil Niekro Classic Golf Tournament at the spacious Belmont Hills Country Club in St. Clairsville.
“Those guys have done a tremendous job of getting this thing going, and keeping it going,” Phil praised. “I’ve still got so many friends here, I think we’ve been sold out for the golf tournament just about every year.”
Proceeds from the charity function go directly to BEAF (Bridgeport Educational Assistance Foundation) to help students in the Bridgeport School District.
“Anything we can do to help young boys and girls because they are the treasures of our country. They really are,” he stressed. “Those you can’t read, we give them the opportunities to learn and read. We all know how important reading is.
“I’m excited about this,” he added, referring to golf outing. “We’re continuing to get bigger and better.”
Phil has attended 13 of the 15 events. The two years that he couldn’t attend, he already had prior engagements.
No Place Like Home
Phil spent the weekend at home, literally.
Instead of staying in some fancy, expensive motel, the former Bulldog great shacked up in his old bedroom in the former family home along U.S. 40 (National Road) in Lansing.
“It’s home,” Phil said Thursday night during the annual sponsor’s dinner at Outback restaurant. “I was actually born in Blaine and moved right next door to where my cousin lives right now (next to the Lansing Sportsmen’s Club).
“I sit on the front porch and look around at all the houses and the hills in Lansing,” he added. “There are so many memories that come back.”
When asked how the area has changed over the years, he replied, “I don’t think it has. The only think that has changed is there are a lot of people that are gone. I don’t know a whole lot of people that are moving into Lansing, but that doesn’t bother me.
“Just sitting there watching all the cars go by is something that I always liked to do when I was younger,” he continued. “The trees. The smell in the air. Not much has changed, really.”
A few years back, Phil told me that his biggest thrill when he comes back to his roots is heading down Blaine Hill and seeing the valley.
“When I come down that Blaine viaduct, I feel like I’m at home,” he said. “I don’t have a worry in the world then.”
Lou Holtz Hall of Fame
Phil will be inducted into the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame Monday in East Liverpool.
“I’m excited. Wouldn’t you be? I’m a Lou Holtz fan and have been since I was eight years old, but don’t tell him that though,” he said with a wide smile. “It will be nice to talk to him. It’s always nice to be around him
“To be inducted into any hall of fame is a huge honor,” he added. “There’s not much of a higher honor to can get down here in this valley, or anywhere as far as I’m concerned.
“I got inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame a few years back, and now the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame. Life couldn’t be any better right now.”
“It’s a big weekend for Bridgeport,” Niekro said. “We had the golf tournament on Friday and the alumni dinner tonight.”
The alumni dinner will be held at Wheeling Park’s White Palace.
Phil said he has two prospects in the Baltimore Orioles organization and one in the Atlanta Braves system that he is teaching the fine arts of throwing the knuckleball to.
He has also noticed a rise in players trying to perfect “his” pitch.
“Ever since R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award last season with the (New York) Mets, there are a lot of guys out there trying to throw the knuckleball,” he admitted.
“They found out you don’t have to throw the ball 90 mile an hour all the time to be successful. They figure if they can perfect it, they might be able to pitch in the majors.”
He said he gets letters all the time from people wanting him to teach there kid how to throw the knuckleball.
“You can’t do that by mail,” he laughed.
North can be reached at email@example.com