Braves legend signs autographs
by Wes Mayer
For the Newnan store’s grand opening on Wednesday, local baseball fans flocked to Ollie’s Bargain Outlet to meet a special guest, Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro.
Niekro began signing autographs at 10 a.m., but fans arrived at the store as early as 7:30 a.m. to get their tickets to meet the former Atlanta Braves pitcher —only 250 tickets were available. Before meeting Niekro, fans shared their memories of seeing him play, and they arrived with spotless baseballs, Phil Niekro baseball cards, Atlanta Braves hats, baseball bats, photos and more for him to sign. Even Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager was among the fans who visited the store to meet Niekro.
“I actually used to hunt with him,” Yeager said. “I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
Some fans brought extraordinary items for Niekro to autograph. One couple, John and Greta Rundles, brought their replica Legacy Brick Paver brick. The replicas are given to those who donate to the Atlanta Braves through the Legacy Brick Paver program, and a real brick is laid at Turner Field. John Rundles said their brick is located at the base of Niekro’s statue at the stadium.
Another fan, Tony Knott, brought a chunk of marble for Niekro to sign. Knott said the marble was a piece of the original pedestal Niekro’s statue stood upon at the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Knott said he went to the stadium after it was demolished in 1997, and he managed to grab some of the pieces that happened to be part of the pedestal.
“I told him this is probably the most unique piece he’ll sign today,” Knott said.
Niekro, who is now 74, pitched his first major league game in 1964, retired in 1987, and he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. He was best known for his “knuckleball” pitch, which, while not easily controllable, was even more difficult for the batter to hit. In his career, during which he played for the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays, he won 318 games and had 3,342 strikeouts.
Ollie’s Bargain Outlet is now open at the site of the former Kmart on 50 Bullsboro Drive. The store specializes in selling closeout, excessive inventory and salvage merchandise at discounted prices. Locations also opened in Duluth and Carrollton on Wednesday.