Mike Matheny gathered the St. Louis Cardinals in the team's clubhouse Sunday and announced that four of them had made the National League's roster for the upcoming All-Star game in Minnesota. The group got excited for Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter, but the players seemed especially happy for right-hander Pat Neshek, who was heading back to his hometown for his first All-Star game.
What a year it has been so far for Neshek, whose wife Stephanee gave birth to the couple's second son, Hoyt, during spring training. Earlier in the offseason, when Neshek was unemployed and nobody but the Cardinals were offering him a chance, he was wondering if his career was over. Now at 33 years old and with parts of eight seasons played in the majors, Neshek is an All-Star.
Via MLB.com, Matheny said Neshek's reaction was that of astonishment.
"It hit a different level of volume when I announced Pat," Matheny said of the clubhouse reaction. "His response was priceless. He was astonished, I think. You look at everybody's individual trail that they're on to get here, and some of the adversity that guys go through make something like this even sweeter. Once again, though, [it's] completely deserved. I don't think anybody is going to argue that."
Matheny is right. While relief pitchers who aren't closers don't often get picked for the All-Star game, their numbers have grown in recent seasons. Neshek's performance in 2014, including an 0.77 ERA and 0.57 WHIP, rank first among all NL relievers who've thrown at least 30 innings. While it probably helped that Matheny was in a position to add Neshek to the roster, he also deserves the honor.
Neshek says adjustments to his delivery, which have added 2 mph to his fastball, have been a key to his career renaissance. He's not only throwing his slider now.
He's been on the cusp of making the All-Star game before; in 2007, Neshek was among those up for the final vote. He's been let go by major league teams three times since then. And considering the anguish that Neshek's family experienced nearly two years ago, it's a testament to him that he's pitching at such a high level.
The Nesheks lost Gehrig John Neshek less than 24 hours after he was born in October 2012. They still don't know why he died; The parents say Stephanee was given the wrong antibiotic with the baby still on the way. Hoyt is their second child, but this June was Neshek's first Father's Day. They remain in mourning. But life is better now.
Neshek talked about his life with USA Today in June:
"My wife and I, we had so much sadness last year,'' Neshek says, "and now to come home and see Stephanee holding Hoyt. It's the happiest I've seen her in a long time.'' Says Stephanee: "The only time I've ever seen him smile like he is now is when Gehrig was born. I never saw him smile like that at our wedding. Not when he got called up to the big leagues. Not his first win. Nothing has ever made him happy and smile like this. "Life is pretty amazing, isn't it?"
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