Knucksie goes to Cooperstown again and again

Niekro’s Gwinnett Knucksie

Who: Braves Hall of Famer Phil Niekro

What: The "Knucksie" award-winning sandwich, which consists of smoked BBQ pulled pork, pickles, caramelized onions, coleslaw and two BBQ sauces served open-faced on skillet corn bread.

Where: Niekro's, the restaurant behind home plate at Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves.

When: Niekro's is open for all Gwinnett Braves game. The Triple-A team is playing at home June 23-29.

Origin: "When the head cook was here we kind of put it together," Niekro said. "It's a little different."

Phil Niekro lives in North Georgia but he seems to have made Cooperstown, N.Y., a second home.

“I just enjoy going to Cooperstown,” Niekro said. “It’s a magical town. Anytime they need me up there, if I’m available, I go.”

A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame board of directors since 2008, he estimates he makes four or five trips there a year. Niekro plans to attend the July inductions of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on July 27. In preparation for the ceremony, Niekro said he’s written to all six inductees and their wives, a tradition he continues each year.

“I wrote them all notes and also wrote their wives notes because I think people forget how important (the roles that) wives play in those guys getting to the Hall of Fame,” said Niekro, who has missed just one induction since he was admitted in 1997.

Soon after the this year’s festivities, Niekro will return to Cooperstown on Aug. 2 for the hall’s 75th anniversary concert, which will feature the Boston Pops Orchestra and Paul Simon.

He was back in town on May 24, where he managed Hall of Fame Classic against a team of of retired stars managed by Ozzie Smith.

“I’ve beaten him five years in a row,” Niekro said. “So this year, it looked like he was going to beat me. Pedro Martinez hit a two-run homer in their last inning and it rained. So it was tied. So still, he hasn’t beat me yet.”

After 24 years in the majors — 18 of them with the Braves — Niekro still doesn’t miss a game.

“I sit and watch every game. If I’m traveling, I’ll listen to them on the radio,” Niekro said. “In town, out of town, I can’t remember the last game I missed.”

Craig Kimbrel, the Braves closer, has become a friend of Niekro from seeing him occasionally around the clubhouse and always at training camp. He calls Kimbrel the best in baseball.

“It’s a very humbling to hear that a guy in the Hall of Fame would say something like that about me,” Kimbrel said. “He did it for a long time and … you know, if you’re throwing a knuckleball, you’re definitely a pitcher.”

He may not have ended his career in Atlanta but the knuckleballer still roots for the Braves like they were his own.

“They’re having a couple of problems here and there maybe with a player or two,” Niekro said. “There’s a few guys struggling on that ball club but it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be very successful and helpful before the year is over.”