The inside of Pat Neshek’s glove had become so ragged last season that he had to rip out the lining that separated his thumb from the rest of his fingers. A piece of the lacing is gone, the webbing is worn, and the padding is thin enough that Neshek had a bruised palm after catching a line drive on opening day.
“I keep thinking that’s going to break any day,” Neshek said, pointing to another piece of lacing that’s threatening to fall off. “But that’s been four years now. It’s just hanging on.”
Neshek bought the glove in 2001, 18 years ago, when he was in college, after discovering a website that sold broken-in gloves. He began using it three years later in the minor leagues when his name-brand glove fell apart. It has been the only glove Neshek has used in his 13-year major-league career.
The trusty glove has accompanied Neshek to All-Star Games, playoff matchups, and the World Baseball Classic. It has been there for the ups and downs of a career filled with both.
Neshek has not treated the glove or had it repaired. He has helped increase its life expectancy by a few seasons by using a different glove when he has a pregame catch or shags fly balls.
“It will be good for its 60 or 70 games a year,” Neshek said.
Neshek brought the black glove with him in February to spring training, but he also arrived for the season with a changed outlook. He had spent the winter reflecting on last season, his first in a bullpen that operated without defined roles under rookie manager Gabe Kapler. Last year, Neshek said, was a challenge.
“I found myself complaining a lot to myself,” Neshek said. “It really wasn’t fun to come to the field when you don’t have a role.”
Neshek knew the bullpen usage would stay the same in Year 2 under Kapler. So he had two options: keep complaining, or accept it.
Neshek already had a tough glove. Now, he said, he needed to strengthen his mind. He told himself to be ready for anything. He recorded a save last season and was pitching in the seventh inning two days later. Neshek entered in the sixth inning in two straight games and then was asked to pitch the ninth.
“This isn’t your standard bullpen usage, which isn’t a bad thing,” Neshek said. “It’s just that you have to get used to it. A couple of other guys shared that idea. ‘Hey, let’s be ready, man.’ It’s the major leagues. This is the new way. We have to be out there for five or 10 minutes. Let’s just give it our best.”
Neshek received an offer to ditch his glove in 2007 after a strong rookie season with Minnesota. Mizuno said it would give him $10,000 to use its gloves.
But Neshek was not ready to part with his glove, which he said folds shut with the ease of a pancake. The company said it would still pay him if it could simply sew the Mizuno logo over the emblem of Katz, the retailer from which Neshek had bought the glove.
He wore a Mizuno patch on his glove for two years before missing the 2009 season after Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2010, but the glove company said it would no longer pay him.
“I took a razor and took off the Mizuno logo,” Neshek said.
The markings from where the Mizuno logo was stitched are still visible on the wrist of the glove. Another Mizuno logo near the thumb of the glove is covered by black stitched letters: “GJN.” It’s a remembrance of Gehrig John Neshek, the pitcher’s first-born son, who died in 2012 just 23 hours after being born. Gehrig’s initials are the only markings on a mitt that has been stripped of any frills.
“I thought it would be cool to have him with me out there,” Neshek said.
Neshek used his glove to make just three plays last season. The glove is more about comfort than functionality, but Neshek believes the way it folds allows him to retrieve a ground ball more quickly.
Its efficiency was tested on opening day, when Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson cracked a screaming line drive back to the mound, bringing back memories from college when a line drive broke Neshek’s chin in three places.
Neshek extended his glove to the side and snapped it at the liner. He opened his mitt, was surprised to see the baseball there, and threw to first for a double play.
The baseball, Neshek said, would have ripped through the webbing if it had landed a little higher than where it left a white blemish. His left hand was throbbing and his palm was bruised, but his old mitt proved it could still do the job.
“It was like a Charlie Brown moment: ‘Oh my God, it’s in my glove,’ ” Neshek said. “I don’t mind if it hits me in the chest, but don’t hit the face. It hurts. That did some serious damage. I’ve lost all my reaction stuff from the college thing. I used to be really good at the comebackers. But maybe I got it back. That was a weird play. Just stuck my glove up.”
Two days after his glove was tested, his new outlook was challenged. Neshek was sick with a stomach virus but told Kapler he would be able to pitch last weekend on Sunday Night Baseball. The manager, after Neshek pitched a scoreless eighth inning, said Neshek was “mentally strong” and “sometimes doesn’t even recognize how tough he is.”
Neshek said he was a little stupid, not tough, for pitching while sick. He puked on the mound during his warmup pitches, before rallying to retire three of the four batters he faced.
It was a different inning and a different role from what he had done on opening day. But Neshek, armed with an old glove and a new outlook, had no complaints. Just like his trusty mitt, Neshek did his job.
“This year, specifically in the offseason, he made a commitment to himself, I think, to take down the biggest workload possible,” Kapler said. “And I think that leap speaks to his mental toughness. He’s really challenged himself this year. And he knows that there’s major challenges ahead and we’re going to be leaning on him. I think he wants the ball.”