JUPITER, Fla. -- After a three-day absence, right-hander Pat Neshek returned to the Cardinals' Spring Training complex on Monday ready to continue his pursuit of a 40-man roster spot and place in the team's Opening Day bullpen. Forgive him, though, if his mind remains elsewhere.
Nearly 18 months after the death of his first son, Neshek has been bedside with his wife, Stephanee, who delivered a 7-pound, 11-ounce baby boy in an Orlando-area hospital on Thursday night. Hoyt Robert Neshek -- aptly named to include "HR" in the initials and after knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm -- has been in the neonatal intensive care unit with respiratory issues since arriving 10 days before Stephanee Neshek's planned C-section.
The Nesheks received good news on Sunday when doctors informed them that an air pocket putting pressure on Hoyt's lung had reduced substantially and that they hoped he would be released in a week. The baby has also been receiving medication to help him fight pneumonia.
"It's trending to the better," Neshek said. "We'll see. Something could come up. We're not thinking about that at all. We're just thinking about getting him out."
That's because the Nesheks were never able to take their first son home. Gehrig John stopped breathing 23 hours after he was born on Oct. 2, 2012. The day he died was the same day the A's defeated the Rangers to win the American League West. Neshek rejoined his Oakland teammates a few days later for the AL Division Series. He found himself having to mourn in the public eye.
The death of their first son, Neshek said on Monday, was later determined to be caused by an infection that came as a result of the hospital providing the newborn with the wrong antibiotic. That hospital did not have a NICU, which is why the Nesheks opted to commute about 90 minutes from their Melbourne, Fla., home to deliver Hoyt in a hospital that has one of the best such facilities in Florida.
"I feel like [Gehrig] probably would have been fine if he had been at this place," Neshek said. "There were a lot of similarities to that [birth], which scares the heck out of us. It sucks seeing [Stephanee] have to go through that. We have to just be strong. There was a time that first day, it was tough on both of us. I wasn't in too good of a mood. When we saw him, it brought a lot of joy.
"The first time she held him, it brought back a lot of flashbacks; she actually starting crying. I'm really proud of her to be that brave, even to attempt to have another baby."
Stephanee Neshek has since been discharged from the hospital and is staying in a nearby Ronald McDonald House until the baby is released to go home. Neshek will spend his evenings there, too, after finishing his Spring Training work each day.
Being within proximity of the hospital was a guiding factor when Neshek chose a team over the offseason. He wanted to sign with a club that trained in Florida so he would be near his wife leading up to and immediately after the birth. The Cardinals told Neshek to remain with his family as long as necessary and gave him assurances that his absence would not affect his chances of making the Major League club.
"He's done a great job," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's the message we gave him today, too, 'You've done everything we could ask of you to do here so far, so keep that in mind. If you're feeling pressure to be around here, we're happy with what you've done so far. Keep working when you can, but don't get your priorities out of whack right now.'"
It was Neshek's decision to return to camp on Monday.
"As of right now, I felt it was safe to come back here," Neshek said. "[General manager John Mozeliak] has been great and [manager] Mike [Matheny], communicating with them. For me, I thought the baby would come out and be fine and I wouldn't have even missed a day. They said to take as much time and to come back when I think is right. And I did that."
Neshek said he felt "a little rusty" after playing catch on Monday; that was to be expected after a three-day layoff. He is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Monday afternoon and will then make his next Grapefruit League appearance on Wednesday.
In five spring appearances, Neshek has allowed two runs on six hits and one walk. He has struck out seven. The results have him positioned well in the bullpen competition, though that's of secondary importance for now. He's just thrilled to show off newborn pictures and count down the days until Hoyt comes home.
"It was great seeing the support from the organization and just from all my teammates I have played with over the years," Neshek said. "They've really helped us a lot, and that brings a smile to Stephanee's face, too."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.