Niekro always finds magic in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Phil Niekro's mailbox has been filling up again the last couple of years. He knows how to throw the knuckleball, and people are viewing the floater as possibly a golden ticket to the big leagues.
"I get a lot of mail," Niekro said Wednesday. "[People ask] 'Would you write back and teach me how to throw a knuckleball?' You can't do that in a letter. I get some phone calls. I've worked with some guys. I'm working with a couple of guys in the Baltimore Orioles organization. I worked with a guy from Korea for about a week and a half. A guy from China wants to come over and meet with me.
"Ever since R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award with the Mets, it really opened a lot of people's eyes up, not just in this country but all over the world. People think here's maybe a pitch I can throw to get in the Minor Leagues and maybe the Major Leagues. A lot of guys can't throw 90 miles per hour but everybody can take a shot at the knuckleball."
Niekro, who is attending the 75th anniversary celebration at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, formed a relationship with Orioles GM Dan Duquette while working with Tim Wakefield in the Red Sox organization. Duquette turned to him last year when Minor Leaguers Eddie Gamboa and Zach Clark opted to try to become knuckleballers.
Gamboa has done especially well since making the transition, throwing a one-hitter and a no-hitter last season in Double-A. He's currently 4-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 14 games, including two starts, with Triple-A Norfolk.
"He had a great Spring Training," Niekro said. "Hopefully he'll get to the big leagues."
Niekro also talked about his feelings for Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.
MLB.com: What's it like to be here for the 75th anniversary?
Niekro: Well, to be invited here by Jane (Forbes Clark) and Jeff (Idelson) is an honor, really. I always like coming back to Cooperstown, really, walking in here and seeing my plaque on the wall. I get goosebumps, honestly, when I come here. The town of Cooperstown is a magical place. Those people who have not been here should come here and just enjoy this town. I live in Georgia, but me and my wife have thought many times about moving up here and enjoying the rest of our lives.
MLB.com: Is it cool that the Hall is in such a small, quaint place?
Niekro: It's got to be somewhere, that's for sure. I can't picture this Hall being anywhere but Cooperstown … Just walking downtown, all those shops, baseball people everywhere. The lake, the hotel, the golf course. I'm flying on clouds every time I come here.
MLB.com: What's your favorite part?
Niekro: I don't know if there's one favorite restaurant or anything. I have a lot of friends here. Walking (into the Hall) is a feeling that's just indescribable. Unless you're on that wall, it's hard to describe what it feels like. I always come down and make sure (my plaque) is still on the wall. I always like to go in the gift shop. They have things you won't find downtown. Playing the golf course, staying at the hotel. Sitting in the rocking chairs when the sun goes down in the evening. It doesn't get any better than that.
MLB.com: As a Georgia resident, what do you think this year's induction ceremony will be like with so many connections to the Braves?
Niekro: The whole state of Georgia is excited about that. Braves fans everywhere. All six guys going in have some connection. (Tom) Glavine pitched there, Bobby (Cox) managed there. Mad Dog (Greg Maddux) pitched there. Tony La Russa played for the Braves, Joe Torre managed the Braves and Frank Thomas was born in Georgia. That whole group coming in has some connection with the South and Georgia.
MLB.com: Do you hear from a lot of people planning to attend the induction?
Niekro: I talked to people, they say they can't find rooms within 60 or 70 miles of here. The Braves are flying a plane in, bringing all their executives. There probably be a lot of celebrations, parties going on here. It's going to be a really big weekend. I'm not part of it, but you look back 20-30 years and I was involved with the Braves.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.