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Triumph over tragedy; the All-Star story of Pat Neshek

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A Minnesota native and former Twins reliever, Pat Neshek, heads to Target Field to play in his first Major League Baseball All-Star game on Tuesday.

Neshek, 33, comes to the All-Star game as arguably the league's best set-up man. Neshek is 4-0, and hasn't given up a run in a month. He has allowed only one run since April 9th and has the Major League's lowest ERA at 0.70.

The majority of the last two years though has been filled with challenge, both personal and professional, after Neshek and his wife Stephanee lost their first born son to a mysterious illness.

Now, it almost seems fitting, for a player who has faced so much adversity, that he is rewarded with a chance to play in the mid-summer classic in his hometown in front of the fans he made his Major League debut with, and on the same field his brother has helped to care for.

His selection for the game was a special moment.

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"It is the greatest," said Neshek's father Gene, to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "He's had a lot of ups and downs. He's got his dues. And he's had a career that deserves it. For it to happen at home...geez."

Neshek's journey to the All-Star Game is as unique as his side-arm delivery. While many players experience peaks and valleys during their professional careers, Neshek has had to overcome some dramatic obstacles.

On Oct. 3, 2012 Neshek was at home, one day after the birth of his son Gehrig John Neshek, the same day his team, the Oakland A's, clinched the AL West, when he received a call from Stephanee, telling him their son had stopped breathing.

According to the Star Tribune, doctors suspected Gehrig died of an infection they thought had been treated but they didn't know for sure. Neshek said the range of emotions he felt are impossible to explain.

"It still seems like it's not real, like it happened to someone else," Neshek told the Star Tribune.

The next two years were pretty difficult for the right-handed reliever and he was released by the Oakland A's late last year after being seldom-used in mop-up duty.

The Indy Star reports that after being released by the A's, Neshek considered walking away from the game. His wife was about to give birth to a baby boy after losing Gehrig nearly two years earlier and Neshek was beginning to question whether or not it was worth it to keep playing.

"I wanted to have a more meaningful role," Neshek said to the Star. "If it meant not having a job or calling it a career, that was fine. I didn't want anything else. It's great to get the paycheck, but it leaves you so unfulfilled. It was almost like I'm on the (disabled list). What am I doing here?"

Only the Cardinals and Brewers showed interest in Neshek. He eventually agreed to a minor-league deal with St. Louis.

While in spring training with the Cardinals, the couple welcomed Hoyt Robert Neshek on March 13, 11 days premature.

But that too came with a scare. According to the New York Times, Hoyt spent 10 days in intensive care because of breathing difficulties similar to Gehrig's. Once, Hoyt was released the Nesheks took him home to Melbourne, Florida, about 90 miles from the Cardinals' spring training site in Jupiter.

Neshek made the drive everyday after that.

It was during spring training where he noticed the velocity on his fastball had increased to around 91 mph and he was throwing well and having success. He pitched his way right into the Cardinals' bullpen and the outstanding performance continued into the season where Neshek has excelled as the Cardinals' primary set-up man for closer Trevor Rosenthal.

Now, with the big game in Minneapolis this week, Neshek will have the chance to make his All-Star debut in front of the same fans who watched him debut in the majors in 2006.

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