Turning tragedy into a positive

HOUSTON As baseball season starts winding down, we'll soon be hearing a lot more about one particular former Astros great Joe Niekro won more games than any pitcher in Astros history. In his 11 seasons, the knuckleballer notched 144 wins, including the biggest in franchise history, a 7-1 complete game win over the Dodgers in 1980 that put the Astros in the postseason for the first time in their history.

On October 27, 2006, Joe was suddenly taken from us at age 61, dying suddenly of a brain aneurism. Joe and his family were close. Son Lance played Major League Baseball, and even went to spring training with the Astros.

Daughter Natalie was very close to her dad and now she's doing something to try to prevent people from suffering the same fate as Joe. She started and runs the Joe Niekro Foundation. Their mission statement is to raise awareness and money for aneurism research.

"Dad deserves it," said Natalie. "Other people deserve it, too. I don't want people to have to go through what our family had to go through in losing such a loved one and I think it's so important, like I mentioned before, that we just get the information, the awareness, the research and the treatment out there and available to the public."

Natalie was at her home in Arizona when she got the call almost two years ago that her dad was in critical condition in a Florida hospital.

"It wasn't until I traveled back to see him in the hospital," Natalie told us. "We kept him on life-support so that the family could come back and see him. It really didn't hit me for several weeks. When you lose someone so special to you like that, I don't think you truly understand it until you start living your life without them. That's part of the reason why I dove into this foundation, because it's my way of keeping my dad alive and it's creating a legacy and it's creating an honor and he truly deserves it, not just for what he's done for the city, but what he did for baseball and what he did for our family and what he did for me.

To honor her father and raise money for aneurysm awareness and research, Natalie and the board of the Joe Niekro Foundation are throwing the 'Knuckle Ball,' Monday September 22 at Minute Maid, a black tie event, with cocktails, gaming, dinner, and a big time country music star who is big, but his name can't be announced until Monday. Many of the former Astros greats will be there. For information, call 832-667-5856 or log onto JoeNiekroFoundation.org.

Joe Morgan will be there to emcee. Nolan Ryan, Joe Sambito, Dave Bergman, and many of Joe's teammates from the 70's and 80's will be there.

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