Joe Niekro Foundation Throws Its Pitch To Arizona Fall League Fans

Todd CivinSenior Writer IOctober 16, 2009

A little girl's unconditional love for her father is a heartwarming story that I can hear over and over again without tiring of it. More so, I feel absolutely within the boundaries of creative license to share the story on more than one occasion.

This past August, I told of Natalie Niekro and her love and admiration for her Daddy, the late, great Joe Niekro. My story about her story, entitled "Joe Niekro: Daddy's Little Girl Knuckles Up For Aneurysm Research" has been quite well received while at the same time igniting a friendship between me and the child of one of baseball's greats. Just as Joe Niekro was one of my heroes during his brief time on earth, so too is his daughter through his passing.

On nearly a daily basis I witness Natalie's commitment to her father and her undying efforts to carry on his legacy. She has made me realize how lucky I am to still have both of my parents and has enabled me to savor ever precious moment that I will continue to enjoy with them. I encourage the readers of this story to do the same.

"Live every moment as if it were your last. Then one day you shall be right."

Additionally, through her creation of The Joe Niekro Foundation , Natalie urges us all to learn about and become aware of the many aneurysm factors, causes, treatments and research available today and to support the foundation in it's quest to help prevent and protect against deaths caused by brain aneurysms. 

She explains on the Foundation website, "Brain aneurysms can occur in anyone, at any age. They are more common in adults than in children and slightly more common in women than in men.The incidence of reported ruptured aneurysm is about 10 in every 100,000 persons per year  (about 27,000 patients per year in the US),  most commonly in people between ages 30 and 60 years ...

Growing up as a child of a professional baseball player has been an indescribable experience and now the torch has been passed to me to leave a legacy just as my father has."

Natalie went on to add "Dad’s aneurysm was sudden, unexpected and undiagnosed.  Within 18 hours of Dad’s rupture, he was pronounced dead.  Upon losing my father, I made a commitment to dedicate my time, energy and focus on the advancement of neurological treatments for aneurysm patients."

Natalie is taking the Foundation globally later this month after forming a partnership with Major League Baseball and the Arizona Fall League.

"The Foundation has a great relationship with the Houston Astros organization, but is not as well known by the other teams that Dad played for. I wanted to find a way to make other teams and their fans aware of the cause and the Foundation," said Niekro.

Through the efforts of long time baseball executive Roland Hemond, Natalie connected with Steve Cobb, the executive director of the Arizona Fall League, who warmed after initially balking at Natalie's idea.

"When I spoke with Steve Cobb, he seemed a bit hesitant to incorporate a program so close to the start of the season, but when I sent him my idea, he called me within minutes wanting to be involved.  He said he was touched by my story and could hear the passion in my voice, and knew it was an organization he wanted to partner with."

"We met with each other after church and created the Arizona Fall League Aneurysm Awareness Week."

Aneurysm Awareness Week will begin on Oct. 26th, which marks the day of Joe's Aneurysm. Throughout the week of 10/26, $36 will be donated to The Joe Niekro Foundation, for any strike-outs by a pitcher wearing a uniform from one of the teams Joe played for during his career.

Niekro explains, "The number 36 signifies the number Dad wore during the majority of his 22-year baseball career. These teams include Chicago Cubs, SD Padres, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, NY Yankees and Minnesota Twins."

Niekro currently has three sponsors, each of whom will donate $36 per whiff, but would love to include several more. She and her husband, Luke, will then match the funds raised and donate to the Foundation.

At all games throughout the week, microphone announcements will be made during each game detailing the promotion and reason behind it. The announcements will give a total that has been raised to-date on each day. This will give spectators the chance to hear about the number of strike-outs and who the pitchers were, which is a great way to showcase the league's talents.

In addition, informational brochures will be handed out at each game during that week to raise awareness of the Foundation and brain aneurysms.

Niekro herself will appear at three games to throw out the first pitch and address the crowd.

"I have chosen two night games (6:35) and one day game (12:35) in which I will be on location to address the crowd and throw out the first pitch. Those games are:

10/26 - Peoria Sports Complex - 6:35 p.m.

10/30 - Scottsdale Stadium – 6:35 p.m.

10/31 – Good year -12:35 p.m.

"The week climaxes on Nov. 7 (which also happens to be my Dad’s birthday), there is a nationally televised game on MLB Network at 6:15 p.m. in Surprise, AZ, which will be the game that we will do the check presentation.

Niekro will spend some time in the booth with MLB writer Jonathan Mayo, who is expected to do the play by play of the game. 

"I am so excited to partner with MLB on this concept and hope that this will be an annual event with the AZ Fall League."

Niekro hopes to roll this out to the Arizona Cactus League or with any luck to the entire Major League season.

To become a sponsor of the event, please write to nniekro@joeniekrofoundation.org. To simply donate to the cause please visit the website at www.joeniekrofoundation.org .

Niekro recently threw out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park in Houston on September 13th after presenting a check to the Foundation following The First Annual Knuckleball.

The Foundation raised over $400,000 at the gala black-tie affair which took place on July 31st at Minute Maid Park and featured a casino gaming reception, silent and live auction and a special performance by Grammy Award Artist, Collin Raye. 

The following video presentation was shown to guests on the night of the event and captures the emotion that Natalie still feels when she speaks of her "best friend".

Niekro threw out the inaugural pitch at the September 13th game, a knuckleball thrown for a strike of course, to Astro's star first baseman Lance Berkman. Berkman, who is closely affiliated with The Methodist Hospital, told Natalie that she throws better than most guys who are afforded first pitch honors. 

I tend to think it must run in the family. TC

Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for The Bleacher Report, Sports, Then and Now and Seamheads . He is also a supporter of, "A Glove of Their Own" the award winning children's story that teaches paying it forward through baseball. The Joe Niekro Foundation is the most recent non-profit organization to join the A Glove of Their Own team and will earn $3.00 from each sale of the book purchased using the donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation.