Friday, April 25, 2008
Q&A with Stephanee Neshek
(and wife of Twins Relief Pitcher Pat Neshek)
Good morning! Well, as you can see from the title, we have a little something different today. I have done many Q&As with Twins minor leaguers and such, but I thought it would be fun and interesting to do a Q&A with a someone with a little different perspective on things. If you recall, back at Twins Fest, I was able to spend some time talking to Pat Neshek and several members of his family, including his wife Stephanee. As we were all talking, I casually said that since I've done so many Q&As with Pat, I should do a Q&A with her sometime. Well, here it is, and I think it is pretty good. As you can see, Stephanee is not just a fan of her husband, but she is a huge baseball fan who really understands the game. (Hey, anyone who can use the name "Lance Blankenship" in a Q&A is cool with me!) In the below, you will see how that came to be. I really hope that you enjoy this. Who knows, it may spark other questions that you may have for her. If so, feel free to e-mail me, or leave some questions in the Comments section and we will attempt to get them answered. Of course, I ask that all questions be appropriate and respectful, please. (If you are interested in reading other Q&As that have appeared here, click here)
Let the Questions Begin!
SethSpeaks: I understand that you were quite the softball player in high school player. Tell us a little bit about your high school playing days. What positions did you play?
Well, I played high school softball in Omaha, NE. I pitched and played
outfield. My team was stacked and I played with (and against) some of the best
softball players in the country! It really made me a better player and made me
work harder. Those were some good times. My high school team got 2nd place in
State, which was a big deal for us. The team that got first place was
undefeated my whole high school career, I think, and they were just plain
awesome! I think playing a sport when you are young is so valuable. I made
most all of my friends through softball, especially after we moved. Sports
teach you many important life skills, keep you in shape, and are so much fun!
SethSpeaks: You were able to achieve a Division I scholarship to play softball. Tell us where you played college ball and how you and your teams did.
Stephanee Neshek: I waited awhile to decide where to go to college... so eventually I decided to go back to the West Coast to play at a Jr College where my 14-and-Under travel coach was the head coach. California Jr College athletics are a whole different breed! I didn't know it, but there are over 200 different Jr Colleges in the state of California that have intercollegiate softball! It was so competitive and I loved it! My school was in the mountains of Northern California. I got to play with some of my old friends I grew up with, which was great. My freshman year, we were really good! At the mid-point of the season, my coach told us that I was leading the entire state in batting average! We went to the conference tourney but were beat out. There are a lot of great athletes out there!
My next season, was tons of fun, although we weren't as great as the year before. But personally I had a great season. I got another All-Conference trophy and Most Valuable Pitcher, but even better were the scholarship offers. I was all set to go to San Francisco State, but then a school in Georgia offered me a full Division 1 scholarship. One of my goals was to play D-1 softball... and I did it when I transferred to Mercer University.
SethSpeaks: What are your thoughts on the current state of women's fast pitch softball?
Stephanee Neshek: I think women's sports in general have come a long way... When my mom was younger, they didn't even have organized sports for girls! Slowly, but surely, they are coming along. I wish women's softball was televised more. It's fun to watch the college games on TV- NCAA Regionals and the Women's College World Series. I know even a lot of the Twins players get into watching that. Surprisingly, not a lot of people even know there is a women's National Pro Fast pitch (NPF) league. Not many games are shown on TV:( Hopefully they can market it well and get more people interested. A few of my friends still play, and it's awesome to see them doing that- continuing their dream! I think the women pro softball players are kind of "pioneers" right now, because not a lot of girls went on to play after college when I graduated (in 2003). It just wasn't really an option, girls kind of just moved on with careers or family after college, while guys got to play pro. The Women's Olympic softball team should be awesome this summer, so that will be fun to watch! I think it's great that young girls can watch women softball players on TV and have female role models. I would have loved that! Hopefully the sport continues to grow!
SethSpeaks: Have you always been a big baseball fan too?
Stephanee Neshek: YES! My grandma was a huge baseball fan and listened to all the Dodger games on the radio... so my mom grew up listening and watching the Dodgers. It ran in the family! When we moved to Reno, I was about 3 yrs old and we got all the Giants and A's games on TV. Since the Giants were the Dodger's rivals, I became an A's fan. Plus, when you grow up watching the A's team of the 90's, you have to love them! (They were one of Pat's favorite teams too and he grew up in MN!) I started playing softball when I was 5 yrs old, and really go into it! My sister (she is 2 years younger) and I traveled all over the country, even as little girls! There weren't any female softball players to watch on TV, so we were big baseball fans. There was an Independent League team in Reno called the Silver Sox. My family would go to all the games and we just loved it!
SethSpeaks: Who was your favorite team and who were some of your favorite players when you were growing up?
Stephanee Neshek: Growing up in Reno, NV, I loved the Oakland A's! What kid couldn't love that team with Jose Canseco, Dave Henderson, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart, Terry Steinbach, Dennis Eckersley, Lance Blankenship, and Walt Weiss?! I was born in Santa Monica, CA, and that's where my mom's family lived (in Southern California) so I liked the Dodgers a lot too.
My favorite players were Jose Canseco and Kirby Puckett. But I wanted to hit like Darryl Strawberry- the high leg kick haha. My sister and I use to have our own "teams" in the backyard, and we would pretend to be 9 different hitters and a bunch of different pitchers. We would play an entire game against each other, with ghost-runners and fielders haha! Pat and I always joke with each about who played more "backyard" baseball/softball growing up. I say that I did (and I know I'm right:) because I lived in a warmer area, so I could play more, and also my dad put up lights in our backyard to complete our "field". So we basically played from the time we got home from school or practice until my parents called us in. And I had a 30 foot chain-link backstop my dad built to keep my sister and my pitches from going over the neighbor's fence. It was so much fun!
SethSpeaks: How did you meet Pat?
Stephanee Neshek: I have a short answer and a long answer for that one haha.... obviously you want to hear the long story if you are reading this, so I will give you the dirt:) My sister and I went to a Devil Rays/Twins game in Tampa Bay when we were living in Florida during our college days. We were sitting down near the Twins dugout and an older gentleman with a white handlebar mustache started talking to us. He asked us if we were nurses, and we said "No". Then he talked to us for a couple minutes. We wondered who he was? He was in Twins warm up gear, but obviously he wasn't a player. I had a friend who had dated a baseball player and I had heard they hired guys to wash uniforms and do chores and stuff, and they called them "Clubbies". So after the game, we drove back to our apartment and told our roommate about the game and everything.
A few days later, we were bored and we decided to search the Internet for "Twins Clubby" and try and figure out who this mystery man was. Pat's website (which he had just launched) came up and he was complaining about the minor league clubby fees in a blog entry. We started reading it... That was right when he started it- 5 seasons ago!!! We were like "What is this?" He had all sorts of college pics and funny stuff up there. My friend jokingly said something like, "Let's send this guy an email." (That was back when Pat had his email right on the homepage haha!) We wrote him something like "Hey, we really like your website, so do you have a girlfriend?" And he wrote back within a day saying "Hey, glad you dig the website. To answer you question, no girlfriend." My roommates and I were kind of talking to him for awhile through email, but it was very short-lived... they eventually got sick of being online and weren't really Internet-savvy. I loved the Internet (I am a "computer geek" I guess you'd say). I ended up reading all the messages from Pat and I actually found out I had lots in common with him. We started talking online multiple times a day, then it progressed to texts, and instant messages... and finally the phone! We were talking for hours and hours on the phone! There are also lots of little details that meant a lot that I left out... come on, I can't tell you everything;) .
The weird thing was, when we first started talking, Pat was in AA New Britain. He was doing pretty well, but then suddenly got sent down to A Ball in Fort Myers the week before my birthday! My sister and I lived in Jacksonville, FL. So we decided that for my birthday, we should drive down to meet Pat in person. It was the craziest experience... both Pat and I were very nervous and almost didn't go through with it. Between his parents and my sister, they convinced us to actually meet in person. And it ended up being totally right! We have been together ever since!
SethSpeaks: What is life like for the girlfriend or wife of a minor league baseball player?
Stephanee Neshek: I would best describe it as being on a crazy roller coaster- it's like a life-long ride where you have ups and downs, and unpredictable twists and turns, but you are on it for the long-haul and don't get off. A lot of people think it sounds glamorous dating or being married to a pro athlete. While it is lots of fun, there's so much more that the general public doesn't know. Especially with minor league baseball. The drawbacks are that it's inconsistent... it's very sporadic. You get use to living on the go! There are never any guarantees so it is hard to plan anything. From finding a place to live for the season to just booking a plane flight, you can't count on anything being set in stone. When a player gets called up or sent down, there is usually a gf/wife who has to work out the details. Another thing that is tough about the minor leagues is that the paychecks aren't very good. Most guys are actually paying out of their pockets to cover rent and food! It's hard to have your family stay with you the entire season on that income. Many of the girlfriends/wives work in their hometowns, so they are not able to be with their spouses during the season. This was never a big problem for Pat and I because we were use to being apart. I worked in Florida the first few seasons, and just got to see him a few times a season, during the offseason, and spring training. It can be very hard for some girls though, especially those with children. For the wives/girlfriends who do live with the players, and want to work, finding a job that fits the schedule can be tough! Dealing with the ups and downs of the season is also hard. I have seen good friends come and go. As sad as it is, it becomes a part of the baseball lifestyle. A guy will suddenly get released, traded, or sent down, and I will be like "Man, that sucks so bad!" I feel awful for them and I really miss some of the good friends I have made along the way.
On a positive note, I have gotten to travel to all sorts of cities I would never have seen without baseball! You meet so many great people and get to see so many cool places along the way! The minor leagues are very family-oriented and they make the games a lot of fun! It's an adventure, and for people like Pat and I- we thrive on that. We made the best of it, and really had fun together when we got to see each other. We also both have incredibly supportive families who were/are with us through the good times and the bad! It means so much to have people to help you out, and I know it made all the difference in Pat's career. It's an experience I wouldn't change for the world.
SethSpeaks: I know that families live the baseball life along with the player, so what was it like for you when Pat told you that he was getting called up to the Twins? How excited were you?
Stephanee Neshek: It was a crazy situation... my family had just been in Rochester, flew home, and Pat got called up the next day! When he found out, he called his family first... and then I called my family. I remember screaming to my parents, "I am going to Texas!!!" It all felt like a dream. I was so proud of him and so happy for him! It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it... Knowing first-hand how hard he worked and how bad he wanted it, and just to watch him fulfill his dream, was an unbeatable feeling!
SethSpeaks: Were you able to go to Texas and see Pat's big league debut against the Rangers? If so, what was it like seeing Pat and his family living that dream?
Stephanee Neshek: Of course I was there! Everything happened so quickly after Pat got called up... the next thing I knew Pat's family and I were in Texas watching his debut!!! You couldn't beat the excitement of his parents, brothers, and I being there! It was surreal and I will never forget that moment! I wouldn't have missed his debut for the world! It was emotional for all of us! His family couldn't have been more proud! His dad still tries to go to every home game... I think he has only missed a couple since Pat's been called up! His whole family watches every game!
After Texas, the Twins came back to Minnesota, and a bunch of Pat's family members came into town to watch him. He didn't pitch for about a week. But every night they would go to games because they didn't know if he would pitch or not... eventually after the week, most of them had to get back to work, or school, etc. So by the time he did get into the game for his Metrodome debut, there were only a handful of them- in the upper deck, wearing "Neshek" jerseys and cheering like mad!
SethSpeaks: You are active on the message boards at On the Road with Pat Neshek, the blog that has made Pat a cult hero to so many baseball fans. What are your thoughts on the blog and how popular it has become?
Stephanee Neshek: Yes, I am on the message boards (my name is "Mrs. 17" haha). I think his website is so much fun! It is special to him, as well as the fans. And he genuinely enjoys it! It's a great merge between a player and his fans. I think it's helped Pat voice his own opinion on several issues, and shows he's just a "normal" guy for the most part:) He has met so many cool people from the website and sparked interest in lots of baseball fans all over the world.
SethSpeaks: Compare and contrast how life is different now that Pat is in the big leagues?
Stephanee Neshek: We have grown a lot together over the past 5 seasons. It is kind of like working your way up in any job- you start at the bottom and try to get to the top. Only it happens much faster and more randomly in baseball. I think each year, we kind of saw the changes and improvements. I always knew deep down that he would make it. I am his biggest supporter and I do whatever it takes to help him!
SethSpeaks: The Twins Community Fund provides a lot of money to charities throughout the Upper Midwest and other places. The Twins Wives are very active in that program and in the community. I know you've been very active since Pat came up with the Twins. Tell us a little about what the wives are able to do.
Stephanee Neshek: I have gotten very involved in charity work the past few years. I love helping a good cause. When we do the fundraisers, it is a great way to interact with fans as well. I really enjoy meeting fans, and talking with them. It is fun to get involved in the community, and I know a lot of the other wives feel the same way. Here is a link to the webpage that the Twins made up for the Wives:
Last season (2007) the Twins Wives Organization raised over $60,000 for several different charities. During the year, we did lots of fundraisers and at the end of the year, as a group we voted on the different charities to donate it to. My recommendation was the Golden Valley Humane Society :) I hope to volunteer somewhere helping and walking/running dogs in my free time this season.
I really like hearing what you guys, members of the community, have to say about our work. So if you have suggestions or ideas, let me know on Pat's website (my name is Mrs. 17). I've heard some great charity event ideas. Or even if you just want to say hi at a fundraiser while I am working, always feel free:)
My lifelong dream is to start a no-kill animal shelter where we would rescue dogs/cats that would otherwise be put to sleep, foster them, rehabilitate them (if needed), and eventuality find them long-term homes. This won't happen in the near future, but it is something Pat and I are working toward as a long-term goal. I think everyone has a passion in life, and animals are mine.
SethSpeaks: Do you and Pat discuss baseball when he comes home or on the phone after a game? Do you talk strategies or stay away from such discussions?
Stephanee Neshek: Not too much. If he wants to talk about the game, it's usually just a brief conversation. He vents to me- good or bad. If there is an amazing play or catch or something, we talk about that. Sometimes he tells me funny stories that happened at the field.
SethSpeaks: Are the two of you able to ever completely get away from baseball? If so, what are some of your hobbies outside of baseball?
Stephanee Neshek: Always! Whenever we are together we're very happy. We actually don't talk too much about baseball, especially during the off season. When he gets home from games, or calls me after a game on the road, we might discuss it for a minute or two. But it's usually more about the dogs or something else. We like surfing, running, swimming in the ocean, golfing, reading, grocery shopping, working out at the gym, watching movies, playing paddle ball on the beach (there is a beach volleyball court across from our house in FL so we make up games to play there). We like to take our dogs on long walks on the beach- almost every night. I like cooking and he likes eating haha.
SethSpeaks: I know that you and Pat have a couple of dogs, and I recall Pat blogging about how disturbing the whole Michael Vick story was. Talk about the dogs?
Stephanee Neshek: You don't want to get me started on people who abuse dogs! I love all animals! Our dogs are like our kids- they're my babies:) We have two dachshunds- Juicy just turned 3 years old on April 1st and Kirby is one. They travel with me wherever I go! When we first adopted Juicy, Pat was in the minors and we had to arrange to have her fly with me, or have someone watch her, or have her ride in the car on a road trip. Those are the things most people don't think about when they think of pro baseball.
By the time she was 1 year old, Juicy had been to 22 states!!! Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.
Juicy has been on so many trips, it's crazy!
A couple years ago, Pat's dad Gene drove a full-size van, packed full of our stuff, which was pulling my car (stuffed full) on a U-Haul trailer. I was following behind in Pat's car, with Juicy on my lap! After two LONG full days of driving, Geno and I made it into Rochester, NY (Pat had flown there with the team earlier). It was so late at night, there was nowhere to park... and it was right in downtown Rochester! It took Pat and his dad nearly 2 hours to find somewhere to park. Meanwhile, they dropped me off at the hotel with Juicy and I was trying to get her up to the room...When I got in the elevator, I had a sweatshirt so I covered her head and bundled her up, holding her in my arms like a baby... I was really nervous, but luckily no one noticed...
Juicy also went
with Pat and I to his debut in Texas! When we got the call, he had just had a
few hours, so we got her a flight to Texas with me. Pat's parents checked with
the hotel they were going to stay at, and they took dogs. The only problem was
that Pat and I (and Juicy) got in the night before them! I smuggled Juicy into
the hotel and up the elevator! We got her into the room and then realized we
hadn't eaten all day so we ordered dinner. When the delivery guy came to the
door, Juicy barked a little and Pat was so nervous someone would hear her. He
was like "Oh no, I finally got the call to the big leagues and my dog is going
to blow it haha!" He gave the guy a huge tip and he didn't say anything:) The
next day, as soon as his parents got in, I took Juicy to their hotel and she had
to stay the rest of the time with them.
Kirby hasn't had to do too many road trips, so he actually loves riding in the car (and when he does he sits on the backs our our head, right behind our necks:) But if you start packing a suitcase, he gets scared that he will be left behind and he jumps in!
The dogs are so much fun! Pat and I love taking them on walks and playing with them!
SethSpeaks: What were your thoughts on Pat's Twins commercial? Did you get to be there when they filmed it?
Stephanee Neshek: No, I wasn't there. I actually was pretty busy when we were back for Twins Fest (which was when Pat filmed it). We got in late on a Wed. night, then he filmed it early Thursday morning before we had to go to the Diamond Awards Dinner. So I didn't go- it took him like 5 hrs!!! But it would have been fun to see.
I just saw the new pitcher's commercial tonight ("Ode to Joy")... WOW, that is so funny! I couldn't stop laughing! I absolutely LOVE it! It is my favorite one!!! I think Joe Nathan has a great voice at the end! Rick Anderson conducting with the mini bat- so awesome haha!
SethSpeaks: Favorite baseball movie?
Stephanee Neshek: Major League!!! My sister and friends and I use to watch it over and over again... We also liked A League Of Their Own, and coincidentally the next year our Bobby Sox (fast pitch) team was a peach color so of course we called ourselves the PEACHES! We were awesome too:)
SethSpeaks: Have there been times when you and Pat have been out and people have asked for autographs? What are your general thoughts on that (whether people should leave you two alone, or understanding that this is the person's opportunity to meet a celebrity)?
Stephanee Neshek: Yes, there have been quite a few occasions... Everyone so far has been very polite and respectful so it's all good. I would never get in the way of a fan meeting Pat. A couple years ago, when he first got called up, we were in a restaurant with his mom and a guy came up, recognized him and asked him to sign something he had in his car. That was the first time I remember anyone totally picking him out of the crowd and actually coming up to us in public. Since then, he gets recognized more and more. But he has a lot of great fans so it's never been a problem. As long as people are nice, and don't take advantage of it, it's great.
SethSpeaks: Open Question - What would you like to tell Twins fans and specifically Pat's fans?
Stephanee Neshek: Everyone always asks me if I collect or collected baseball cards/memorabilia. My answer is yes. Well, I thought I did. But then I met Pat and realized there was a whole "art" to collecting autographs haha. Suddenly my 1991 Topps Binder of cards and team signed Silver Sox ball didn't seem as wonderful. Growing up in Reno, we had the Silver Sox (an independent league team). My friends and family and I went to tons of games and it was a BLAST! You couldn't tell us they weren't as good as the major leaguers... We would get there early and try to get autographs... my dad would try to get in front of the pack, to make sure my sis and I could get a graph... we had season tickets and went to just about every game. But the sad thing was, we knew nothing about getting autographs. My dad did the best he could, but one time, there was a guy named "Kaha Wang" (I am sure I butchered the name but I was only like 7). He signed a ball for my friend, my sister's friend, and I, but had to go and couldn't sign my sister's ball. She started crying and crying and was so upset! Of course it's no big deal now, but back then it meant the world to her. I tell Pat to always make sure he signs for little girls- because they are just as big of fans as the boys:)
I think sometimes it's more about the experience and memories
behind the graph or picture... not so much that actual value. When you have a
story to tell, it makes it so interesting... It's all about having fun:) I
know that Silver Sox Ball and team signed set isn't worth anything, but the
sentimental value can't be traded!
A huge thank you to Stephanee Neshek for taking the time to answer all of these questions. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to put them in the comments below, or e-mail me and I will try to get a response. Have a great weekend!