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He knew that the knuckle ball, a difficult pitch to master, kept him active until he was 48 years of age. Although he pitched for three teams in the American League—the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays—he started with the Braves and finished with the Braves.

Everywhere he played, he was accompanied by his tackle box, even when he played in New York. “Drive a couple of hours out of Manhattan,” he said, “and you can find some of the best fishing lakes there is.”

For years, the Braves spring training camp was located in West Palm Beach, Fla., the perfect place for an enterprising fisherman. The popular fishing grounds of Lake Okeechobee were only an hour away from West Palm. With that good fortune, Niekro was as happy as a rabbit being thrown into a briar patch.

The rest of the Phil Niekro story is not so comforting. He went to that great spring training site in the sky in December 2020. Fishing was put on hold with the Pandemic, but now is making a comeback. Owing to summer’s heat, however, fly fishing the Chattahoochee has concluded until the fall.

I didn’t get to fish with Phil this spring and I’m “hurtin.”

Seeing him pitch was a highlight of my years following the Braves. Fishing with him elevated the friendship.

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