We use the words "courage" and "hero" much too often in sports to describe some of the amazing things we see from day to day that defy our expectations.
While for some, it's the iconic image of Willis Reed limping onto the Madison Square Garden court in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals or Emmitt Smith's running all over the New York Giants with a busted shoulder New Year's weekend to give the Dallas Cowboys the 1993 NFC East crown, Pat Neshek's seventh-inning relief appearance Saturday should join that list.
Tuesday, in the middle of Oakland's season-ending series against the Texas Rangers, Neshek left the team to be with his wife as they celebrated the birth of their son Gehrig John.
The celebration that Oakland and Neshek deserved in coming back from 13.5 games back to win their division had turned tragic. As Neshek had earned the highest high on the field, he had been dealt the lowest low off it.
Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Not at birth. Not at 20. Not ever. For Pat and his wife Stephanee, that nightmare had just become very real.
Oakland management tried to do the right thing and excuse Neshek from the postseason. While we all take our sports and professions very seriously, in the end baseball is just a game and a full ton of real life had just hit.
Stephanee not only said no to Oakland's offer, she pleaded with them to include the grieving pitcher on their roster.
They did. Saturday, in a tense Game 1 that Oakland was still in, down 3-1, Neshek started warming up to back up stater Jarrod Parker in the bottom of the seventh.
After Parker allowed a base runner, manager Bob Melvin called for his right-hander.
Oakland put a patch with the baby's initials on their jersey for the series and will wear it for as long as the playoffs take them. It was obvious that Neshek and all at Comerica Park were caught up with a run of emotions.
Neshek did his job and retired the two batters he faced and then looked skyward to the little boy he barely had time to know.
The Nesheks wanted to be with their baseball family in their hour of need and Stephanee was there in the crowd and watched and healed as much as one can heal so quickly after that kind of tragedy.
Pat Neshek just did his job on Saturday night—nothing really fancy or exciting about his stint, just an average relief appearance in a baseball game. But for his family, it was so much more than that. It was a time to take that small first step forward.
While the Tigers won the game, Neshek stole the show. His grief will go on long beyond his career and our public view, but for one night, we all had the chance to help him share it.
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