The Joe Niekro Foundation gala, The Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life, was a huge success and raised over $400,000 toward aneurysm research for The Methodist Neurological Institute. The black-tie affair which took place on July 31st at Minute Maid Park, featured a casino gaming reception, silent and live auction and a special performance by Grammy Award Artist, Collin Raye.
With Hall of Famer Joe Morgan serving as master of ceremonies and Dr. Robert Grossman and Mr. Drayton McLane serving as Honorary Co-Chairmen, the attending guest list read like the Who’s Who in the Sports Arena. For an effort started by a great boost of energy and intelligence from Joe’s daughter, Natalie, president and founder of The Joe Niekro Foundation, the program unfolded as a tribute to her father and the man that gave his heart to the city of Houston for 13 years, wearing the multi-striped Astros uniform.
In addition to Joe Morgan, other Baseball Hall of Famers on hand included Joe’s brother Phil Niekro, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Robin Roberts, and Ozzie Smith. The list of famous former Houston Astros was equally impressive, Kevin Bass, Dave Bergman, Enos Cabell, Larry Dierker, Phil Garner, JR Richard, Frank LaCorte, Deacon Jones, Billy Smith, Carlos Alfonso, Bill Dawley, Glenn Wilson, Ed Herrmann, Art Howe, Craig Reynolds, Joe Sambito, Carl Warwick, Bill Virdon, and Jimmy Wynn. Plus other MLB stars Lee Smith, Ron Robinson, Jay Johnstone, Jeff DeWillis, Jon Warden and Jim Foor. Other sport icons in attendance included former Houston Rocket and NBA Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, former Houston Rocket star Mario Elle with Isaac Stallworth and Aaron James rounding off the NBA list. Representing the NFL were, Houston Oiler quarterbacks Dan Pastorini and Oliver Luck, Hall of Famers Ted Hendricks and Dave Casper, Gregg Bingham, Dave Duerson, Spencer Tillman, Jim O’Brien, Vernon Wells, Jr., Derrick Kennard, JD Hill, Doug Dawson, Mike Barber, Art Still, Ron Pritchard and Lynn Larson.
The reception began officially at 6:36 PM. The past normal time start was done to (1) highlight Joe Niekro’s uniform number as an Astro; and (2) to also make the point that it is now past time, via Joe’s deceased status, to consider retiring his Houston uniform number 36 from all service use by any future Astros. Among all his many accomplishments in baseball, Joe Niekro has held onto one very special record in Houston MLB franchise history. – With 144 wins in Houston, Joe Niekro has the most career victories as a Houston big league pitcher.
The evening program following the reception began with a delicious meal and a heartwarming welcome and explanation from Natalie Niekro about how the Joe Niekro Foundation and the Knuckle Ball came to be as a “Pitch for Life” against the sudden silent killer that is aneurysm. Natalie was accompanied by several former teammates of Joe Niekro, who spoke of what it meant personally to have known Joe Niekro as a teammate and friend. The evening culminated with a special concert from Country Music Artist Collin Raye, who belted tunes for nearly one hour, giving all patrons an unbelievable and touching performance.
Knuckle Ball 2010 is already in the works, so stay tuned for the date announcement.