NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WJBF) – “You wake up, you’re a professional baseball player, you’re a Brave, the team you wanted to be with your entire life,” J.J. Niekro, son of longtime Major League pitcher Joe Niekro and nephew of Braves Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, said during a break while working out before Tuesday night’s Augusta GreenJackets game. “I’m following in their footsteps, figuratively and literally.”
“It’s just taking pride, knowing that I get to put on a GreenJackets uniform or a Braves uniform every single day and, just how proud they are looking down from above,” he said of carrying on the famous family name. “Just to say that I’m a Niekro, I am in baseball and I’m doing exactly what they thought I would be doing.”
J.J. Niekro lost his dad Joe unexpectedly to a brain aneurysm when he was just eight years old.
“He took me to school in the morning and I never got to see him again,” Niekro said. “Nothing was wrong with him.”
That moment changed his life.
“I always try to look at things from a positive aspect,” Niekro said. “It’s a big part of my Catholic faith. If I hadn’t have lost my dad I wouldn’t be the type of guy I was today. I know that. So, I appreciate every little thing about life. I realized you’re never guaranteed tomorrow. You’re never guaranteed your next pitch in a baseball game, you’re never guaranteed anything in life. So, it really helped me be thankful for an opportunity like this.”
Then in 2020 another setback: Tommy John surgery. But in 2021 the Braves saw something they liked in J.J. during a camp for undrafted free agents. That resulted in him getting a trip to Braves Spring Training – where he saw some familiar sights.
“When you wake up and see (Phil Niekro’s) number 35 retired walking into the cafeteria I just know I’m meant to be here, and I know God had that in store for me and I’m just thankful that that’s the case,” Niekro said.
J.J. says the Lord had one more surprise: The Braves sending him to Augusta to begin his pro career. His aunt lives in the Augusta area.
“It’s really a dream come true,” Niekro said. “A lot of people say that about things, but the fact that I get to be a Brave after my Dad and Uncle passed away, and my Aunt is the last remaining of the three, so she gets to relive her childhood memories of my Dad and my Uncle playing for the Braves. It’s just so cool. If I was on a Monday, an off day, in any other town in the country I wouldn’t have that instant family connection, but Augusta’s always felt like home in an aspect, because I can go to her house, go swimming, have a barbecue on an off day and just feel right at home, so it’s really, really nice.”
Now 6-0 in his first full season of pro baseball, J.J. is making a name for himself – while also serving as an ambassador for the Niekro name.
“I just take pride in the type of people they were,” Niekro said. “Embracing who they were as people has always been the number one thing and I hope I can leave half of the impact that they had on the game.”
For more from J.J. Niekro on his season and his future, click below: