My lovely wife has looked at me strangely quite a bit these past few weeks, all my pacing and hand-wringing while I watched a baseball game. "Fan" comes from "fanatic" and while she likes sports a lot, she's not one who is emotionally invested in any team, does not let her mood become affected by wins or losses. Over sushi last week, I tried to explain to her why I was behaving the way I was.
"I love this team," I said. "I love every last one of 'em. And I want them to win because they deserve it. They're defying everything and everybody with this run and if they fall short, I won't love them any less, but it will be unfair."
Well, they didn't fall short. They staged another remarkable run this last week, another win streak, and an electric finale to win the AL West.
The A's are a team of improbable stories. They have a converted catcher at third, a former sweet-swinging first baseman who is now a key cog out of the bullpen, an outfielder at first base, himself a minor-league free-agent who posted a .954 OPS, the Cuban Bo Jackson (I joked when we signed Cespedes that he was the rare FA to sign in Oakland, because Cuba is one place where Oakland seems an upgrade in locale) and a 180 lb. right-fielder who muscled up for 32 home runs.
Stories everywhere. Another is Pat Neshek.
The A's plucked him from the Orioles' AAA club in August and added him to their mix-and-match bullpen. He's a side-winding righty with goofy mechanics and a humorous follow-thru that ends with him looking like a slightly-buzzed flamingo. Once a regular in the Twins 'pen, he'd undergone Tommy John surgery and bounced between AAA and the Bigs the last three years. He did well for us, a good option to get an out or two against right-handers. He gave up a couple big homers but you couldn't get down on him for that. He is Pat Neshek. You don't expect him to be Dennis Eckersley. He contributed to this magical season. He's a member of my favorite A's team ever.
I'm sure you've all heard the story by now. After the A's clinched their playoff spot on Monday night, Neshek's wife went into labor. He flew to Florida to be there for the birth. He tweeted his joy at both his personal and professional luck and his wife gave birth to a son on Tuesday. Less than a day later, the baby died for unknown reasons.
I can't even...
In the booze-soaked A's locker room yesterday, A's reliever Ryan Cook gave an eloquent interview. "I can't describe anyone in here as other than 'resilient,'" he said. After being used in his fifth straight game, he talked about how he felt. "I woke up this morning, feeling like crap and I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You gotta figure it out, bud, have to figure out how to get up today,' and as soon as we got out here and saw the crowd and the electricity, that's all it took. These fans are something else."
I love this team. I know all A's fans feel the same way. And along with the ecstasy of triumph yesterday, I know they are all hurting for the Neshek family, as well. Twenty-five (plus) brothers in that clubhouse and every one of us who wore green and gold to work today are praying for their comfort and an easing of this terrible burden. I know it's not much, can't even begin to touch their pain and loss, but we're here.
This is not in any way an attempt to make this about me, but I am reminded of something a friend told me six years ago when I was in my own time of heartbreak and despair. He said, "You have friends who are here to help you up when you fall. Some of us will even carry you for a while. Never forget that."
I never have. I hope the crowd and the cheers and the electricity can carry the Nesheks, even if only for a moment. We love this team.