Another Niekro seen warming up in Fresno
GARY ESTWICK; The Fresno Bee
Published: August 16th, 2007 01:00 AM
FRESNO, Calif. – The highlight of Wednesday night’s game came long after Fresno Grizzlies starter Matt Kinney wrapped up a 6-3 win against the Tacoma Rainiers at Chukchansi Park. It transpired in the bottom of the eighth, down the first base line, out of play.
First baseman Lance Niekro, the son of a major league knuckleball pitcher, nephew of a Hall of Fame pitcher, threw about 30 warm-up pitches in the Grizzlies’ bullpen, taking attention away from a game Fresno led by four runs at the time.
Niekro has not made a pitching appearance in 12 years, he would later admit.
He was, though, poised to make his first in more than a decade in front of 6,610 fans.
In the bullpen, he worked to the right of Tyler Walker, who entered in the eighth. Would Niekro follow in the ninth? Would Niekro, a second round selection by the Giants in the 2000 draft, a former major leaguer trying to get back to the game’s biggest stage, take a drastic chance that could alter his career by switching from position player to the mound?
Not on this night.
The ideal situation for him to enter the game – a big lead where he can relax with minimum pressure – dissipated as Tacoma scored one run late, so he will have to wait, maybe until the teams play again today.
“I have nothing to lose,” Niekro said. “I’m going to go out there and you never know; it could be a turning point or something, I don’t know. I’m just having fun.”
On Wednesday, he went 1-for-4 and tallied his 14th RBI of the season. He is hitting .286 with two home runs.
Don’t take his light tone the wrong way. This is family work. While he’s not ready to give up first base, he’s giving the knuckleball a chance to rewrite his career. And according to Grizzlies manager Dan Rohn, the talent is there, in his right arm.
“He’s got a good knuckleball,” said Rohn, the former Tacoma skipper. “We’ll see if we can get something out of it.”
The idea came weeks ago as Niekro rehabbed his right thumb. When he was able to throw, he started throwing knucklers. Two or three bullpen sessions later, he’s poised to make an appearance his late father Joe and uncle Phil might be proud of.