Life's peaks and gulleys were never so vivid to me than over the last 48 hours.
Pat Neshek is a sidearming right-handed relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s who spent parts of three seasons with the New Britain Rock Cats. He ranks among the most genuine people I’ve ever encountered in the 30 years I was around professional baseball.
Neshek was riding the crest of elation.
After five big league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres, he overcame the trauma of Tommy John (ligament replacement) surgery on his pitching arm and the ensuing rehabilitation. He retraced his minor league steps and played an active role in his team’s improbable surge to the American League West title as an exceptional right-handed specialist, as his 1.37 ERA over a 24-game period would heartily attest.
On the personal side, he and his wife Stephanee were about to experience the birth of their first child. Neshek’s love of baseball, not only as a player but as a fan, surfaced brightly in his naming the baby boy Gehrig. Gehrig John Neshek was born Tuesday, the same day the A’s were beating the Texas Rangers to set up Wednesday’s one-game battle for the division championship.
“Thinking of the long nights in AAA, my TJ surgery & the days when I thought it was over makes this the sweetest playoff ‘birth’ of my career!” he tweeted.
Neshek, who was writing blogs and using computers to spread baseball’s gospel before it was fashionable, posted a photo of him holding Gehrig for his many Facebook friends to see. I could feel the warmth pulsing throughout my torso, feeling the joie de vivre that radiated from his smile.
Before Pat and Steph could enjoy their view from the top of the world, the unthinkable happened. Gehrig died on Wednesday without having experienced life for a full day.
I woke up Thursday morning to the following Facebook entry: “Please pray for my family. Tonight my wife & I lost our first & only son 23 hours after he was born with no explanation.”
Life is a perplexing phenomenon. Everybody experiences problems, and when those problems are worked out, we’re worrying about new ones.
I thought about some of the ones I encountered in recent years, one is of a personal nature that only my family and dearest friends are aware. In addition, there have been substantial professional setbacks that have tested my mettle and my faith.
I bitch about the economy and the corrupt and/or inept politicians who can’t turn it around. My voice reaches a higher crescendo when I talk about the eroding effects of greed on the human race, and on my industry in particular. I scream in the solitude of my Avalanche when some brain-dead idiot passes me on the right at 90 miles per hour.
Such petty injustices invade our minds on a daily basis. Often we are stunned by a death in the family or stung by a severe injury to a loved one, but please take a moment to contemplate the torturous slide from the height of pure human joy to the depths of utter despair that Pat and his family have had to endure.
Am I a spiritual enough man that I can ask you all to pray for the Nesheks? I hope so. Prayer never hurts.
But as I do from time to time when tragedy intercedes, I feel so helpless to reach out and provide something to help them feel better in the hour that’s hurled them beyond their greatest nightmare.
I cried for joy when the Oakland A’s, a team I’ve rooted for since its days in Kansas City. This morning, I cried out of desolation for a friend who touched my life with his kindness. I wish there was something more I could do.