PHOENIX – Five and a half months after Gehrig John Neshek stopped breathing and died only 23 hours after his birth, his parents are just beginning to learn to breathe again.
"The devastation has never left me," A's reliever Pat Neshek said.
On Oct. 2, Neshek and his wife, Stephanee, experienced their best moment with the birth of their first child, Gehrig John. The next day, the A's beat the Texas Rangers to win the American League West.
Later that day, Gehrig John was dead. He just stopped breathing.
Neshek's wife nevertheless encouraged him to leave their Florida home and rejoin the A's in Detroit, where the team was primed to start the American League playoffs. And he faced the Tigers in Game 1, getting two outs, allowing no runs and getting an ovation from the Detroit fans both when he warmed up to come into the game and when he departed.
Pitching was therapeutic, temporarily.
"I don't think I've had time to come to terms with what happened," Neshek said. "We had to grieve in public, which we didn't know how to do.
"When the season was over, it was mid-October. Then the holidays were right there. We couldn't enjoy anything. Christmas was really hard."
There is still no closure. The autopsy didn't give enough clarity about the cause of death, and now lawsuits are pending, so no one can talk about the specifics.
But it's March in Arizona. Spring training still is spring training, Neshek still is a baseball player, and the game is beginning to bring joy back into his life.
The A's gave him a guaranteed contract, a big deal for someone who is just now getting over Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in 2008. More than that, Neshek says he's found a home in Oakland.
"I grew up in Minnesota, I was drafted by the Twins, and I thought I'd always play there at home," he said. "Then the injury happened.
"I was with the Padres in 2011, then last year I was with the Orioles in the minors. There was a game in Buffalo where I'd just gotten beat up. I'm sitting there after thinking, 'I didn't give up a run in 10 games in spring training, I didn't make the roster, now it's Aug. 1 and I'm getting beat up in Buffalo. What happened to my career?' "
Two days later, the A's bought Neshek's contract from the Orioles and he was put on the big-league roster.
"Now life is great," he said then. "My wife is pregnant, and I'm pitching in a pennant race." He pitched well, posting a 1.37 ERA in 24 games.
Then came the birth and death of his child.
"It was a heartbreaking time," general manager Billy Beane said. "Most of us have been parents, and to lose someone like that, well, it was almost impossible to imagine if you haven't gone through it. There's a fine line between letting them know we care and being invasive."
The A's put patches on their uniforms – GJN – and the gesture caused Neshek to break down in front of the team. Neshek said he will "be forever grateful to the organization, the way they reached out to us, the way they supported us."
It's been a long road back, but this spring has been a revelation.
"I still feel the devastation, and I don't know if that will change," Neshek said, "but this is the happiest I've been, maybe since I've been playing baseball. I feel like Oakland could be a place to be for a long time."
He's likely to make the Opening Day roster. In seven appearances this spring, his ERA is zero. He's given up five hits and two walks in seven innings.
Now Neshek can use the words "devastation" and "happiest" in the same sentence.
"I never would have believed it either, five months ago," he said. "You can't really put it behind you, but at the same time you have to live your life."