By Lily Belcher
J.J. Niekro, nephew of MLB Hall of Fame inductee Phil Niekro, signed with the Atlanta Braves from free agency on July 23.
J.J. has, like most young kids, been playing baseball since he was 3 or 4. However, unlike most, he was serious about it early on. He is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, who were role models for J.J.
“Basically, as soon as I could walk and throw, I was on a baseball team somewhere,” said the pitcher.
J.J.’s father passed away when he was in third grade at St. Stephen Catholic School, but he did have the chance to teach his son the fundamentals of baseball.
“Ever since then, I’ve had a really, really strong Catholic faith. I’ve always just leaned back on that in tough times. … It’s really, really good to have that strong faith to always be there to comfort you, to guide you and to know that there is something bigger than baseball and anything else in life,” said J.J.
He pitched for Jesuit High School, posting a 2.83 ERA with 36 strikeouts across 30 innings as a senior and receiving the Al Lopez Man of the Year Award. He graduated from Florida Southern College, where he played for four years and earned multiple awards and recognitions for his game play and off-the-field accomplishments.
At the beginning of 2020, J.J. tore his UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) and underwent Tommy John surgery, which typically results in a year and a half of recovery. During this recovery time, J.J. learned about himself as a player and how to take care of his body. While it was a struggle to be away from the game he loves for so long, J.J. came back stronger and was able to sign with the Braves’ Rookie-level affiliate team in North Port.
He has been participating in team workouts and training games against other Florida Complex League teams for the past month. He hopes to work up to the minor league ranks and eventually play for the major league team like his father and uncle, who both played for the Braves in their careers.