A Chat With Pat Neshek - From Butler to the Major Leagues
Former Butler right-handed pitcher Pat Neshek, now a
member of the Minnesota Twins, took time to answer questions from
Bulldogs' head coach Steve Farley about playing college baseball
and the transition to the Major Leagues.
Question 1: What are your best memories from your biggest game or two from your playing days at Butler?
"Wow, there were a lot of games that I considered my biggest game. Each year there were a couple big time challenges.
"I remember one of my first starts in college came against Notre Dame, who was pre-season number-one in the country and rated just as high at the time. I remember being the most nervous I have ever been in my life and told myself to trust in my stuff. To me it was unbelievable getting that opportunity to face the number-one team in the country straight out of high school. I can honestly tell you that that wouldn't have at too many other schools.
"That same year Coach Farley called on me to face UIC in the MCC (now Horizon League) Championship. It was another big time challenge that most freshmen will never get the opportunity to be a part of, and, once again, it was amazing to have the season rest solely on a freshman's shoulders.
"These experiences my freshman year prepared me more than anything for the next years to come. That year, I pretty much experienced everything you could as a freshman. I pitched 70 innings, faced a lot of top ranked teams and even got to pitch in the NCAA tournament. This is something that most college baseball players only experience in their last years of college. I, as well as seven other freshmen, got to experience everything college ball has to offer in one year.
"My biggest game was easily my sophomore year against No. 1 South Carolina. Just like the past year, I was making another early-March start against one of the top teams in the country. South Carolina packed the place, and I think they expected us to roll over. The fans were as rude as possible, and it was a tough environment to play in.
"Yet every inning we were putting guys on and playing better than them. We gave it everything but lost 1-0.
"I was so proud of everyone on our team because all winter we prepared for this one game. It just showed that if you want something bad enough and believe in it you can get it. That experience really lifted my game and made me believe that I had what it took to get good hitters out."
Question 2: What are your memories from the college recruiting process?
"The college recruiting process was a unique experience to say the least. I remember going to a lot of pro tryout camps such as the Cincinnati Reds/Pittsburgh Pirates. I think my summer before my senior year I was throwing the ball pretty well and had a lot of college teams looking at me.
"Coach Farley was the first Division I school to approach me, and, when I talked to him, I felt like he was very genuine. That's the thing with college coaches you can never really tell though.
"Once the school year hit, I was bombarded by nearly every school in the country. At one point I wondered if the school or coaches there even knew who I was or if I was just a recommendation from a scout. I wanted someone who was going to pitch me a ton my freshman year and work with me.
"After asking a lot of questions and going with my gut, I narrowed down my choices to five schools. From there my dad and I met with each coach. Once again it came down to who I could trust. I could've gone to any school in the country, but more importantly, I wanted a place that I knew I would grow as a pitcher and get the innings.
"There were two schools I had the toughest time in the world picking between but ultimately I went with Butler because of coach Farley.
"It's amazing, back then, that I made the choice because everything that has ever been promised has came true and I couldn't have made a better choice."
Question 3: What is the biggest difference you had to adjust to from college to professional baseball?
"I think the baseball being played in the lower minors is pretty equivalent to college baseball. Where things get totally different is the grind of the minors. It's a test on you as a person, a player and your family.
"I like to say that baseball is very similar to being a soldier (not that I have ever been a soldier, but I can imagine it's pretty similar.) Each time you leave home to go to spring training you are leaving your family behind for at least six months. Every day you have to play; there are about six or seven off-days each six-month season.
"Just by the fact you are playing everyday means you are going to have major ups and downs during the season in terms of how you are playing. The ones who do the best know how to handle everything: when they are doing great, they stay humble, and when they are doing badly, they understand that it's just bad luck and things will turn around if they continue to work hard and give it everything.
"I have literally seen teammates go nuts, where things are so into their heads they cannot sleep at night. This eventually drove a lot of the teammates I have had out of baseball. Now, couple all of this together with getting paid less than what it costs to live, knowing that any day might be your last and knowing you have to perform and put up numbers, makes the minor leagues tough.
"Even worse is when you put up numbers and have a season where you think you couldn't have done better and seeing other teammates that had worse years move up just by the fact that the organization has more money invested in that player. It's a tough life and the biggest difference is how you handle it mentally.
"At every level, including little league, I have never felt like I had the most skill amongst teammates. I have seen guys with more skills than I could've ever dreamed of go by the wayside because they couldn't deal with the game mentally. This is probably the biggest reason why I made it up to the big leagues.
"Coach Farley did a lot for my game mentally, and I think it is his biggest strength as a coach. He loves to instill confidence in his players. As for me, he taught me a couple new pitches and how to pitch. He didn't do it by saying how it was going to be done. He did it by helping me see what it was going to do, how the ball was going to move across the plate in my head, how I was going to imagine the pitch being low and how I was going to throw at least 60% strikes.
"Another big thing for helping me experience what professional baseball was going to be like was playing summer baseball. I played in the Cape Cod League and also the Northwoods League. The Cape Cod League is a prospect league and the best in the country, but the Northwoods League prepared me for the minors more than anything else could have. My summer in the NWL was a grind and very similar to the minors. I didn't have too much fun because the condition weren't that great but as I look back it was a pretty good taste of what the minors were like.
Question 4: Are there any other amusing stories or recollections from your college days?
"Probably some of the best stories were just hanging out with teammates everyday. To this day, I haven't met a greater bunch of guys than my teammates at Butler.
"We were a pretty close knit team and always stuck up for each other. We loved making each other laugh, and going to the field each day didn't feel like a chore. It got to the point that we liked hanging out so much that most guys would be down at the field an hour early before practice hanging out playing flip or joking around.
"We liked hanging out so much that we redecorated the clubhouse so we didn't have to go home so early. After practice we would eat dinner together, and usually, this would last over an hour every night. Other people at Butler must have hated us because we were one big gang and were so loud.
"When practice was over and it was late at night, we would update our website and update it with funny things that different guys did each day. Parents loved it, and it gave us something to always look back at.
"There were a lot of great stories, too many to mention. I couldn't have had a better college experience."
Question 5: You were originally drafted out of high school by the Twins. What were the main factors that made you choose to attend Butler rather than sign out of high school and what advice would you have for a high school player as he tries to decide between going the Division I route and signing a professional contract right away?
"The main factor was that I was not ready for professional baseball. Yes, I had the skills, but they were far from refined.
"In the minors, they don't really prepare you in a way that college baseball does. You are pretty much thrown out there, and if you don't do well they release you. I have had a couple friends these past years turn down full rides to good schools like Butler only to get released a year and a half later.
"When you have the opportunity to get school paid for and get a good education as well as refine your skills it's an easy choice. I would say if you aren't drafted in the top 10 rounds you should definitely choose college over signing to play professionally."
Question 6: What has been your biggest highlight thus far in your Major League career?
"Easily the biggest highlight was putting on that Minnesota Twins uniform and walking out onto Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas. Just knowing how much I sacrificed and gave up to get there and how much people around me helped me and gave up made that feeling the best thing in the world. Nothing will ever beat that feeling no matter what I do."
Question 7: Is there any advice you'd give to a college player hoping to play professional baseball?
"My biggest advice would be that if you want something bad enough, you will make sacrifices and never let it off your mind until you get it. Always get your body into the best shape you can get it into before the season, and stick with that plan during the season. Watch what foods you put in your body, and put the right ones in to maximize energy for those long practices.
"Tell coach Farley that you want to play at the next level, and he will do his best to get you in a good summer league. But like I said before, always have a belief in something you want to become.
"I know, when I was at Butler, there wasn't a day that went by that I didn't believe I was going to be a professional athlete. If I was sitting in class, I would be visualizing baseball. If there was a party Friday night, I would be thinking about what it would feel like to get drafted high. Things like that. I basically was training myself everyday both physically and mentally for the next level of baseball.
"It's very hard to do, especially with Butler being the academic school it is, but I kept that belief to myself and worked hard to put myself in place to get an opportunity."