July 10, 2017
The Phillies lone All-Star turns 37-years-old in two months, has never started a game in his 11-year big league career, is the owner of just eight career saves, and features a fastball that averages just over 90-MPH (90.2) this year.
Pat Neshek must be doing something right, though, since the 2017 All-Star Game is the second he’s been selected for in the last four seasons. Neshek, the bearded, right-handed, side-arm veteran reliever, had a breakout season in St. Louis in 2014, sporting a 1.87 ERA (11th among major league relievers with at least 60 innings) and a 0.79 WHIP (third among that same group, behind only Dellin Betances and Sean Doolittle).
Through his first 38 games in a Phillies uniform, Neshek, acquired in a cash dump trade with Houston in November, has been just as good as he was in 2014. Neshek has a better strikeout rate this year, his 1.27 ERA ranks fifth best among MLB relievers (min. 20 innings) and his 0.91 WHIP ranks 16th.
Neshek has played 11 years in the big leagues but has lived a pretty full major league life: he’s played in seven postseasons, won a World Baseball Classic title with Team USA, and used his profession to help fuel a hobby collecting baseball cards and autographs. Neshek also has one of the more heart-wrenching stories you’re likely to encounter in the Phillies clubhouse (keep a Kleenex handy for that long read).
Before he left for Miami as the Phillies’ lone All-Star representative, Neshek spoke with PhillyVoice for the latest Q&A.
So, I saw where you were drafted 15 years ago…
Neshek Yeah. No, no. More than that. The first time in ’99 actually. If you want to go way back. Eighteen years ago.
OK. But you’ve played in 1,758 professional games and you made one start.
Do you remember that?
Yeah, it was in Double-A against the Portland Sea Dogs. Kevin Youkilis. I think that was …
So, yeah I went from Low-A to High-A to Double-A all in that one year, and I feel like we got rained out and there as a doubleheader, a seven-inning game. I think I went 3 or 3 1/3 (innings). I think it was raining the whole time. It was really muddy.
Yeah, it was weird because I was a starter my whole college career and I was in the top 10 or 20 in complete games.
Yeah, with our team is was kind of, you get the ball, you’re going to finish the game. So that was never a problem, going long distance.
And then you got the Twins and…
‘Yeah, you’re a reliever, you’re sidearm.’ I had a really good year in the Cape Cod League and that's what they wanted.
Where did you play in high school?
So you can hit pretty good?
Yeah, I was a good hitter. I mean that was 18 years ago. I couldn't do crap now. It’d be awful. I don’t even want one. I’m 1-for-1 in Triple-A.
So not one at-bat in the big leagues?
Yeah and I don’t want one.
I guess that makes sense, in American League for a long time, a reliever throughout your whole career…
Yeah, I don’t want one. It’d be ugly. It’d be ugly, man. The game has changed. If you’re going to be a good hitter I’d need to do it for like six months. Just to get (the feel). I like to shoot the ball to right, just slap is basically and try to hit the gaps. I’m not a home run guy.
For a guy who collects things, I’d think you’d want that ‘first hit’ ball.
Nah, it’d be ugly. I don’t want to get a strikeout and that’s what it would be. [laughs]
What was your second-best spot in high school?
I was pretty good at basketball but hockey was my favorite. In Minnesota you play a lot of hockey, we had a pond in the backyard, so you'd be able to practice. It was really hard I’d play both basketball and hockey, and you’d be gassed, hockey just wears you out. It’s a tough (sport). I credit a lot of my athletic ability (to it), you get a lot of agility and, aw man, it’s fun. I play defense. I liked just going and hitting guys basically. Go out on a Friday night, play a game, and check guys.
Yeah, I played street hockey as a kid. We don’t have as mucin ice here obviously. About 5 years ago or so I did pick-up ice hockey. And then I stopped playing for about 6 months, went back out there and it was painful. You don’t realize all the muscles you’re using.
Yeah, it’s incredible. Your thighs, your legs. That’s why you see those guys in the NHL and they’re 5-foot-10 with tree trunks for legs.
Been on ice skates lately?
I haven’t. It’s been like five years probably.
Want to get your son out there, into hockey?
I really would. It’s tough because we’re in Florida now. They do have ice rinks, they’re like 35-45 minutes away. But yeah, just for athletic ability. I think it’s a great sport to teach kids balance and everything.
Growing up in Minnesota, when does high school baseball season start?
Aw man, it’s a mess.
Like late March?
Oh, you’d be out there like March 10. You’d have tryouts and all that crap in like mid-February, you’d do it inside in the gym. And then you’d eventually build up to hitting ground balls in like the asphalt parking lot where they removed the snow. And then you’d pray the snow melts.
You’d be rolling snowballs up and get them off the field. But, yeah, it’s not an ideal spot for baseball. Iowa does (high school baseball) in the summer. But we’d play about 20 games (in Minnesota) and it never warmed up until like late May. It was cold.
Harder to hit or pitch in that kind of cold weather?
I think it’s harder to hit. You’re just sitting there, it’s hard to play defense, you’re just frozen.
Yeah, at least with pitching you’re constantly moving.
Yeah, it was cool though, in the winter, Dave Winfield’s brother, Steve, built, what was it called, the Arlington Sports Dome? He built this big dome in St. Paul and we’d play winter ball in there, it was great. You’d go at like midnight on a Saturday and play a team until 2 a.m. In high school that was the coolest thing ever. It kept us in shape.
Where you a big Twins fan as a kid? When they won 2 World Series?
Yeah, I had season tickets. I was 7 (years old) and 11 when they won the World Series. It was big, that’s when you’re watching baseball most as a kid. You’d always pretend you were beating the A’s, the A’s were really good. We had season tickets a lot, they were so bad after those World Series that they started giving away like $1 tickets, so you could go to like 80 games for $80. And I think one year they threw in a Kirby Puckett-signed bat.
Yeah, my dad would invite the neighborhood kids, we’d pick them up in a van and then we’d all go running around the upper deck and have fun.
Did you get to go to a World Series game?
No, I don’t think I ever have. No, no, definitely not a Twins one. I’d watch on TV. We didn’t have the money for that stuff.
So never been to a World Series game, period?
I never have, no.
So how much is that a bucket list thing to play in one (the trade deadline is three weeks away)…
Ahhh, it’d be nice but I feel like that stuff just happens. You have to be in the right place at the right time, the right organization. It’d be fun. I’ve tried. I’ve been to the playoffs seven times, lost in the first round six times. So, only made it to the NLCS one time.
Do you remember the first baseball card pack you ever got?
I remember it, yeah, pretty vaguely?
Like Topps ’89…
I think it was actually Fleer, I want to say 1985? Yeah, 1985 Fleer. And then Topps was big, I loved Topps.
Yeah, I remember the Topps with the wood (border), 1987?
Yeah, I remember in ’85 Kirby Puckett had a rookie card so that’s the one we were chasing there.
For me, it was the ’89 Upper Deck…
… the (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) yeah.
That was an awesome card.
Yeah, aw man. I actually had a (Jose) Canseco rookie from Donruss. That was pretty cool. But it was like shredded because my cat got into it.
Hopefully it has returned to its rightful home, Jose Canseco's Donruss Rookie card: pic.twitter.com/66UkvNgDQj— Melissa Lockard (@oakclubhouse) April 26, 2017
What’s your most treasured card?
I have a ’51 (Mickey) Mantle rookie. That’s probably my nicest. It’s in nice shape.
That’s pretty good. Do you have four or five cards you’re chasing down at the moment?
I do, yeah. I’m always trying to build (sets). I have a 1970 traded Topps set. I’m trying to do it all in tens. I’m about 70 percent of the way with all. It’s been like an 11-year project.
And you also collect autographs, right? Heard you say the other say you still needed Zack Greinke.
Is there anyone else who has been a tough get?
Nobody. Everybody is awesome, man. I don’t know what his deal is, but I’ll ask him.
Hopefully, if you’re in the same clubhouse that helps…
Yeah, we’ll see what his answer his, I talked to the guy one time at the last All-Star Game and he was a cool guy. So I don’t know what happened in between.
[Laughs]. How old is your son now?
He’s 3, almost 3 1/2.
Hoping he picks up the same hobby?
He likes it, he likes playing with all of the figures and stuff. So I don’t really care if he does, I can show him a lot of stuff. I think he’s interested in it. But for me it’s just about if he likes it, we’ll go with it.
How much has fatherhood affected you as a baseball player?
A lot, a lot. It’s a whole different like than 10 years ago when you can sleep in all day, prep your body, stay organized and stuff. It’s different but I love it. It’s a good escape from the field, to go home and see what;’s going on in their world, and what’s important to them.
And keeps your grounded, no matter how good or bad a game goes …
Yeah, I love it. It’s great. I’m glad we waited. Sometimes you just wait for a road trip though, ‘I need to sleep today.’
What are you going to do when you're finished playing baseball?
Kids. Taking them to school, coaching them. Just enjoy life. I’ve been playing since 2002 and never have had a summer off, never had a Fourth of July. It’s going to be nice, so just relaxing for a few years and see where that leads me. I don’t know.
Hopefully, it won’t be for another few years.
It’s been a good run.
OK, lightning round now.
Favorite all-time player?
How about an old-time player, since you’re obviously a student of baseball history?
I mean, I named my kid after Hoyt Wilhelm, so Hoyt Wilhelm, a reliever, a knuckleballer.
Who is your favorite current player to watch?
I like (Jose) Altuve. Altuve is fun.
Yeah, for sure, he does everything.
And being so short, overcoming a lot. And doing it… it’s tough. Guys like (Dustin) Pedroia, too, they’re fun to watch.
Seeing as you’re a guy who has fun, what one thing would you change in baseball to make it more fun?
Um… I don’t know. I think just to get everyone to participate in a specific program, whether it be autographs, or doing something on social media, getting everybody on the same page. I think we could capitalize on that, too, and make it fun for everybody. I think baseball needs something like that, just showing guys having fun.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21
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