MIAMI — Just 3½ years old, little Hoyt Neshek is already a baseball nut.
"He has a Phillies uniform," Pat Neshek said of his little boy. "He wears it to bed. He doesn't take it off. He'll wear it for two days and we'll be like, 'It's time to take it off,' and he'll go nuts. The only time you can get it off is if he passes out and falls asleep. Then you throw it in the wash. It's crazy. He loves it."
Like father, like son.
Someday they'll have to tear the uniform off Pat Neshek. For if there's anybody in the Phillies' clubhouse that you could see pitching until he's 45, it's probably him. The guy has incredible love and respect for the game. He's a unique talent with a specialty. And he's a survivor.
Boy, is he ever a survivor.
He survived Tommy John surgery in 2008.
He survived nearly being out of the game — "I thought I was done," he said — in 2014.
And he and his wife Stephanee survived the ultimate loss when their first child, Gehrig, died just 23 hours after he was born in October 2012.
On Monday and Tuesday night, the entire Neshek family, which has grown quickly the last few years to include Hoyt and little sisters Shae and Skye, will be at Marlins Park in Miami for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and other festivities. This will actually be Hoyt's second trip to the All-Star Game. He was a baby with his mom in the stands when Pat, rather incredibly, went from non-roster invitee in St. Louis Cardinals camp in March 2014 to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis that summer. Pat was raised just outside of Minneapolis, so making that All-Star team was very special to him — even if he ended up as what he calls a trivia question: the losing pitcher in that game.
But this trip to the All-Star Game, as the lone representative of a struggling Phillies team, is even more special for Neshek because he's able to share it more fully with Hoyt.
"It's nice because we went through a lot in 2012 and 2013 and when we had him in 2014, it calmed a lot of our fears," the 36-year-old pitcher said.
Hoyt has a special National League uniform — time to wash that Phillies uni! — and he wore it on the field with his dad as they watched Monday night's home run derby.
"It'll be awesome," Pat said a few days ago. "That's what life is all about — family. I've talked to (Phillies teammate) Mark Leiter (Jr.) and he's told me how special it was to go on the field with his dad, (the former Phillies pitcher) when he was a player. He tells me what great memories they are. It's great that Hoyt will have those. Hopefully we can get some cool pictures that he can show his friends someday.
"He's so excited about going. He knows all the teams. The other day, he said, 'Hey, the Pirates beat you guys,' and I'm like, 'You're 3½ years old! How do you know this stuff?' I told him we were going to Miami and he said, 'Oh, the Marlins, they have the home run hitter.' He knows Giancarlo Stanton. It's going to be so much fun."
Little Hoyt Neshek really had no choice but to fall in love with baseball. He was named for Hoyt Wilhelm, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who pitched 21 seasons in the majors, from 1952 to 1972.
Pat Neshek wasn't born until 1980, but he knows all about Wilhelm. As relievers, they share a kinship. Neshek is a huge baseball fan, student of the game and avid baseball card and autograph collector. He does his homework. And, yes, he has been able to purchase several cards autographed by Wilhelm.
"He was one of the better relievers in the game and he played forever," he said. "I thought it was an awesome name, and he was a reliever and kind of an oddball with a knuckleball, so I felt like it fit. Wilbur Wood was another great knuckleballer but I didn't want to name my kid Wilbur."
Neshek doesn't throw a knuckleball. But he conceded that he has an oddball delivery — perhaps the most unusual in the majors — borne out of necessity when he hurt his arm in high school.
In April, the Nesheks welcomed their second daughter.
"I almost went with the name Joost, for Eddie Joost," he said, referring to the former infielder who played in the majors from 1936 to 1955. "But my wife liked Skye."
(Something tells us that Skye will appreciate that someday.)
Neshek's love of baseball history will forever shine in the name he gave his first son — Gehrig.
"He died in my wife's arms," Pat said. "It was hell."
Pat chooses not to speak a lot about the circumstances of Gehrig's death, though he believes it was preventable. The baby developed an infection hours before birth, he said, and to this day, Pat believes mistakes were made by the medical personnel that was involved in the delivery. The family investigated the possibility of legal action, he said, but the case did not proceed.
The pain of it all is still palpable in Neshek's voice.
"You never ever get over it," he said. "There's grief. There's anger. It's tough at the holidays, knowing that my kids had an older brother. He'd be getting ready to go to kindergarten. He'd be on the field with his brother and me at the All-Star Game. That's tough. But that's life. Life is beautiful, but it can also be tough."
Pat Neshek has used the same glove during games for many years. Look closely and you can see the initials GJN — Gehrig John Neshek — sewn into the black leather. And though Neshek admits that he is not overly religious, he always wears a cross around his neck. It was given to him by former Oakland teammates shortly after Gehrig's death. It also has the little boy's initials inscribed on it.
"See," Neshek said, pulling the cross out from under his shirt. "He's with me every day."
And that includes this All-Star Game.
Pat Neshek isn't just sharing the experience with one of his sons. He's sharing it with both of them.