Last week we shared news of Lakelander Andrew Reynolds. This week another Lakelander sports star is in the news. It’s ex-Major League Baseball player Lance Niekro. Well, less “ex” now as the former San Francisco Giants first baseman has signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves.
Where he’ll try to make the team as a knuckleball pitcher.
Any longtime baseball fan knows the Niekro name. Brothers Joe and Phil Niekro had long careers in Major League Baseball as knuckleball pitchers. Lance’s father Joe pitched from 1967 to 1988, and Uncle Phil from 1964-1987. Phil was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Both pitchers relied on the knuckleball for their long careers. So it only makes sense that Lance give it a shot.
Lance learned the pitch from Joe when he was 13 and messed around with it in the outfield while shagging during batting practice with the Giants. He also practiced it in the minors and even got into one game as a pitcher at Triple-A Fresno. Before he retired, he did not consider it as a possible vocation. Once he was out, he decided to give the Braves a call because, he said, “trying a comeback as a 30-year-old first baseman did not seem like a good idea.” — San Francisco Chronicle
If you’d like to see Lance take his shot at pitching, the Braves train in nearby Lake Buena Vista and the team travels to Lakeland to play the Tigers on February 25th.
According to the article, Lance’s Uncle Phil has been in Lakeland the last five weeks helping his nephew master the pitch. They have taken some time for off for fishing. I wonder if there is such a thing as “knuckle-casting?”