Phil Niekro, the N.Y. Yankees' 45-year-old knuckleball pitcher, was in the Village of Florida Monday (April 23) visiting his friend Jimmy Sturr, the well-known polka band leader. Sturr reportedly accompanied Neikro to the Black Meadow Club for some trout fishing. Also along were Gus Kosior and Jim Sturr, Sr.
The New York Yankee pitcher was also treated to some "good old-fashioned" Florida hospitality at Harter's Hotel on Main Street by hostess Marcy Bilvin. Bilvin presented Neikro with some homemade horseradish, called the hottest in town. The ' horseradish was made by Leo Bilvin.
The afternoon's score, according to "reliable" sources, was Neikro—2, Sturr and Kosior—0. Sturr Sr. "just isn't saying."
"That was a great day," says Niekro. "Just like Lansing. Old Polish guys sitting around, smoking pipes, drinking shots and beer. Only difference was they were farmers, not miners. Good fishing, good talking."
According to Sturr, Niekro is creating a cult. "The Polish people in the whole New York area are becoming Yankee fans because of what Phil has done," he says. "I know one man who lives in Florida who wasn't much of a baseball fan until he met Phil. Now he goes upstairs 15 minutes before every game that Phil starts to say a prayer for him."
Hey Niekro, hey Niekro
Throw that knuckleball
Strike 'em out and we'll all go home
But we'll stop at the Polish Hall.
If he thinks he can keep up
And if he wants to go,
Tomorrow night when we return
We'll bring your brother Joe.
On a bright Thursday afternoon at Shea Stadium, a man and his wife sat in Box K-6F, seats 6 and 7, behind home plate, watching the Mets play the Braves. They drank beer and ate hot dogs just like the rest of the fans. Nobody around them knew that the man in the light blue wind-breaker with the burgundy Jimmy Sturr baseball cap tilted over his eyes was none other than Phil Niekro.
It just so happened that the day after Niekro's fifth victory, his old team was playing an afternoon game, and Niekro wouldn't have to report to Yankee Stadium until 5 p.m. So he and Nancy decided to pay a visit. They got to the Braves' clubhouse just before the game. While Nancy said hello to some of the players out in the corridor, Phil slipped into the locker room.
The place lit up with happy faces and cries of "Knucksie!" Catcher Bruce Benedict and pitcher Gene Garber, two of Niekro's Closer friends, made as if to dust off a stool and had him sit down. "What's the action, man, what's the action?" said Niekro, and the three of them laughed at what must have been his familiar words. He couldn't stay long, but he wished everybody well, accepted their congratulations on his great start and went upstairs.