By Pat Borzi
MINNEAPOLIS -- The best news ever reached Paul Neshek at home, not at Target Field. That was probably a good thing.
Neshek, who turns 32 on Monday, works on the Minnesota Twins' grounds crew, one of about a dozen or so grunts who pull the tarp on and off the field. If his name looks familiar, you might be confusing him with his older brother Pat, the sidearming setup reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals -- and, as of last Sunday, a first-time All-Star.
Not long after Paul Neshek pulled into his driveway in suburban Shakopee, following Minnesota's 9-7 loss to the Yankees last Sunday, his mother Paula called from Florida to say Pat had been named to the All-Star team. The news came with a stipulation: Don't tell anyone until Pat's name is announced on the ESPN Selection Show. ESPN and MLB requested All-Star rosters be embargoed to protect the broadcast.
Seriously? Your older brother, after being released by three organizations (including the Twins) and dealing with the death of an infant son, suddenly finds success -- getting picked for the Big Show in your hometown -- and you can't share the word? How do you keep that to yourself?
"It's hard not to tell anybody," Paul said. "I was just dying inside. You want everybody to know." But Paul complied, which he said might have been impossible at the ballpark.
So Paul will be on the field, at work, on Tuesday night, silently rooting for his brother to pitch for the National League in the All-Star Game. Brothers have played with and against each other in All-Star Games, most recently Aaron (NL) vs. Bret Boone (AL) in 2003. It's not clear whether an All-Star has ever had a brother on the grounds crew.
Chances are you've seen Paul already. Target Field tarp workers take turns as ballboys down the lines as part of their duties, and Paul's acrobatic catch of a foul ball in a June 2013 game went viral:
That brought this reaction from brother Pat, via Twitter:
No fricken way...my brother Paul is on ESPN for play of the night, holy cow what a catch, check it out. http://t.co/rlJthPEnml- Pat Neshek (@PatNeshek) June 20, 2013
"When I do stuff, I kind of go all out," Paul said. "I don't hold back. Just like when Pat pitches."
Alas, Paul can't be a ballboy Tuesday night. MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said All-Star Game ballboys and ballgirls are actual boys and girls, chosen from Boys and Girls Clubs and other organizations who partner with MLB. So Paul will pull tarp if necessary and help grounds manager Al Kuehne fix up the mound.
Pat Neshek's timing, for once, is impeccable. Pat, 33, is rolling for the Cardinals -- 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA and 0.541 WHIP -- the same season his manager, Mike Matheny, has the ability to name players to the roster as the NL squad manager.
"I had success a little bit like this early in my career with the Twins," Neshek told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I thought it was still in there, but you never know. It's crazy to see what it blossomed into."
Matheny informed the players of their All-Star selections in a team meeting. "It hit a different level of volume when I announced Pat," Matheny told MLB.com. "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, completely deserved. I don't think anybody is going to argue that."
The Neshek boys -- Paul, Pat and Jacob -- grew up in Brooklyn Park, a Minneapolis suburb. It was Paul, not Pat, who played on the Brooklyn Center Little League team that made it to Williamsport in 1994. Paul's teammate Krissy Wendell was the first girl to start at catcher in the Little League World Series, and she later won silver and bronze medals in Olympic women's hockey.
The All-Star Game holds special significance for the Neshek family. Paula Neshek went into labor with Paul the night of the 1982 All-Star Game, forcing dad Eugene to hustle her to the hospital and miss the game. Paul was born early the next morning.
The neighborhood kids played baseball on the Neshek's front lawn. Growing up, Paul said he and Pat organized month-long All-Star voting, culminating with their own All-Star Game. "Pat was always the best one," Paul said. "That's just how it was."
Paul worked on the grounds crew at the Metrodome when Pat broke in with the Twins in 2006. The following season, Pat pitched well enough to make the final online vote for the All-Star Game, finishing third behind Hideki Okajima. He then missed most of 2008 and all of 2009 after tearing the UCL in his right elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Once Pat healed, Paul watched him bounce from the Twins to San Diego to the Baltimore organization to Oakland. Pat was with the A's when he and his wife Stephanee became first-time parents in October 2012, only to have baby Gehrig John stop breathing and die the next day. Gehrig's death remains unexplained. Pat rejoined the A's for the playoffs and retired both batters he faced in Game 1of the AL Division Series in Detroit.
"It showed a lot of courage," Paul said.
The A's released Pat last August, and he couldn't find a taker until signing a minor-league contract with St. Louis in February. He made the Cardinals out of spring training. "It's been tough for him," Paul said. "He just really needed the shot. I think he feels really fortunate to be part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization right now."
The All-Star Game will be a joyful reunion for the Nesheks. Mom and dad are flying up from Florida. Paul finally will meet nephew Hoyt Robert Neshek, born to Pat and Stephanee in March and named for Hoyt Wilhelm, Eugene Neskek's favorite pitcher. Best of all, Paul and Pat will be together again on the same field, sharing a moment neither of them could have expected. "It's unbelievable what he's been able to do this season," Paul said. "We're just so proud of him."