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The knuckleball pitcher and his catcher, thrown together by the mysteries of the pitch, tend to form a relationship as close as, say, two kids growing up across the street from each other in Lansing, Ohio. When the Braves' game was over that day, Benedict talked about Niekro for a while.
"I kind of miss him. No, I really miss him," Benedict said. "He represented a lot of good things for us. He was such a competitor, and I always felt we were going to win when he was out there.
"Catching that knuckleball set me apart, made me feel kind of special, and I think I became a better player because of it, and him. I would miss a couple, and he would tell me that I was just making him look good, or he'd kid me that I was getting so good at catching it that he felt he was losing his stuff.
"I'll tell you what he meant to me. I was in Omaha with my folks the day he announced he was leaving. I got on the next plane to Atlanta, went to the ball park and picked up the big glove we used. We put a lot of work in that mitt, and I wasn't about to let someone take it. I feel like carrying it around with me in a Brinks truck.
"I miss him in the pinochle games. He'd screw up the deal nine out of 10 times, Polish deals we'd call them. One time I went back with him to Lansing. He showed me the fields where he used to play ball. His mother is the best cook in the world—we had stuffed pork chops and cabbage roll. We went over to the Polish Club, and those guys put down a shot with every beer. Before I knew it, I got floppy-legged. We had a great time.
"What hurt him the most was people saying they didn't want him here any more. I saw a tape of his press conference, and I got all choked up. I mean tears were rolling down my cheeks.
"I broke my fingers three times with his knuckleballs, and I've got all sorts of aches and pains because of that pitch. But the relationship I had with him will never be touched in my baseball career."
One day in 1949 a coal miner taught his 10-year-old son how to throw a ball with no spin on it. And the ball's been dancing ever since.