Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Rest of the Story: The Joe Niekro Foundation and the Arizona Fall League

"And that's the rest of the story" was, of course, the famous phrase uttered countless times by the late, great, Paul Harvey.

For those readers too young or too sheltered to remember the immortal radio legend, Harvey gave listeners the endings to stories that were newsworthy one day and faded away from our memories the next. Harvey would present to listeners the happy or ironic outcome of a story long since forgotten.

I often think about how many times readers, watchers, or listeners become enthralled by the beginning and middle of a story and are never given the opportunity to hear the "and they lived happily ever after" piece.

So in hopes of righting a journalistic wrong, I've tracked down my favorite knuckleballer's favorite little girl to see how Natalie Niekro and The Joe Niekro Foundation made out at the expense of the whiffers from the Arizona Fall League.

In my story, "The Joe Niekro Foundation Throws Its Pitch to Arizona Fall League Fans," Natalie told of her planned event with the AZ Fall League to celebrate her late father's birthday while raising funds and awareness of the wonderful foundation.

The week-long event coincided with the third anniversary of Niekro's passing from a brain aneurysm in 2006. Natalie and the rest of the Niekro family, including her brother Lance, a knuckleballer in the Atlanta Braves system, and her uncle Phil, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer and brother of Joe.

With the support of longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond and Steve Cobb, the executive director of the Arizona Fall League, along with several generous sponsors, over $26,000 was raised for the Foundation during the week-long event as donations of $36 per strikeout were made for any pitcher wearing the uniform of one of Joe's former teams (Chicago Cubs, SD Padres, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, NY Yankees, and Minnesota Twins).

"It was incredible," explained Natalie, who shared the results with me via e-mail while fighting a bout with the flu. "$11,088 was raised just through the $36 per sponsor per strikeout, but then each team also committed to donate their team's total in strikeouts, raising an additional $2,772.

"Then my husband and I matched the overall total, so collectively we raised over $26, 000."

According to its Web site, "The Joe Niekro Foundation is committed to aiding in the research and treatment of aneurysm patients and families. Our goal is to raise awareness about aneurysm factors, causes, treatments and research. All funds are used to educate the public about brain aneurysms, to support patients and families, and to develop awareness programs and educational materials for hospitals, clinics, and other institutions worldwide."

Natalie expressed tremendous gratitude to the four sponsors of the event, Coulter Motor Company, Ms. Patrice Schuttler, Pure Fitness, and Mr. Matthew Tarini, CFP, with the Wells Fargo Financial Network, LLC, each of whom donated $36 per whiff for an actual total of $144 per punchout.

In addition to the much-appreciated payday, Natalie was especially overwhelmed with the wonderful fan response and support of the event.

"It went exceptionally well," she said. "(The fans) were very receptive, and throughout the week I had people contact me stating they were at the game and wanted to share their story of a loved one they had lost to an aneurysm."

During the festivities, Natalie experienced several highlights that will long be entrenched into her memory of the first time event.

"The week was definitely a hard one in that it marked the three-year date of Dad’s passing," explained Natalie, who raised over $400,000 for the Foundation at the Inaugural Knuckle-ball last July. "Also, Nov. 7, the culmination of Brain Aneurysm Awareness Week and the date I addressed the crowd at the Rising Stars Game, would have been my father’s 65th birthday.

"And, what a gift I was able to give him—a check for over $26,000, all going to a cause that will prevent others from experiencing what he did."

Natalie was equally impressed by the support of the players throughout the event.

"I was definitely amazed and quite humbled at the support from the teams, even the players were getting behind it. They were tweeting about it and talking it up on their Facebook pages," she said.

Natalie concluded our follow-up discussion by sharing her future goals and plans for the foundation: "I see it as an opportunity to do this on a national level with all seven of these teams during the regular season—that is my goal and something I am already working on."

And that's the rest of the story!

Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for 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.

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