The Hall of the not so famous.
Sometimes I poach people a bit about some youth experiences of mine. One of those is that I not only played against kids that went on to have a professional career in football, but even played with one on the same team. That is correct though, although I like to make the story sometimes a bit more interesting than it really is, but that is what stories are for, right?
But it isn’t really a story I can pass on to my kids. My kids won’t tell years from now that their dad was on the same team with this player that had a career in professional football. They don’t know the guy. And years from now only a few will remember him. And the person in question probably doesn’t know me anymore, although before his breakthrough as a professional player we would still chitchat a bit when we would see each other (and by saying chitchat I know I am poaching again).
Neil Weber coincided with a Hall of Famer during his career. But it wasn’t in the major leagues, his big league career was too short for that, but during his minor league time in the Montreal Expos’ system. I guess Weber still remembers he played with Vladimir Guerrero on the same team, but will the Dominican remember him? Not that Weber has ever mentioned it in the few articles I found about him, but those are questions I sometimes ask myself and in this case would have liked to ask Neil Weber. Unfortunately the former Diamondback didn’t answer to my e-mail through which I contacted him. I guess I need an introduction on “how to approach Americans by e-mail and achieve an answer”, and getting a follow-up class about “how to approach former baseball players by e-mail and achieve an answer”. Or maybe once the Diamondbacks have resolved their bandwidth problem they might be able to help out in the future (this is an inside joke that I guess only Jack will understand).
Neil Weber was a well regarded Expos prospect in 1996 and 1997. But his 1997 season in the minor leagues wasn’t that great. He did fine in Harrisburg, in AA, in his third (!) season there, but burnt his fingers in a short stint in Triple A. His control seemed to be his biggest problem, so maybe that was the reason the Expos left him off the protected list in the 1997 expansion draft.
“Less than five years after the last dumbest thing — the 1997 Expansion Draft — there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the whole thing. Of the 420 players protected, 107 have continuous service with those teams. Of the 70 players selected by the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks, four remain with their clubs.” - Peter Gammons on ESPN on the 1997 expansion draft
The 1997 expansion draft proved to be one complete crap shoot, although you might be right if you claim that for the Diamondbacks it was a huge success because of one specific pick (that we will discuss in another article in this series). Well, that might have been the intention of the Diamondbacks in that draft, as Gammons hints in the quoted article: find and draft a bunch of players that might be interesting to other teams and get players back who might actually be worth something.
Arizona pit stop.
Neil Weber was pick #21 in the 1997 expansion draft but, unfortunately for the D-Backs, couldn’t be packaged and flipped for something better, so he was set to start the 1998 season in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system.
Coming off a harsh debut in Triple A the year before, being part in 1998 of the first Tucson Sidewinders squad and playing in the Pacific League was probably not the most ideal environment to pitch in. Weber pitched to a 5.11 ERA, which was actually not that bad on a team that combined for a 5.35 ERA (league average was 4.78), although, again, the peripherals didn’t inspire much hope. During the season the Diamondbacks thought he might have better luck as a reliever, so for the first time in his career he was moved to the bullpen and in the end that earned him a call-up to the big league roster.
“I was a starting pitcher in the minors, but when I got to (Class) AAA, they saw me as a relief pitcher,” added Weber. “I was able to adapt. When you play professional baseball that long, most pitchers have to adapt. I did a little bit of everything throughout my career as a pitcher.” - Neil Weber in a 2021 interview for a Lebanon County media outlet
Thus Weber became one of the first players in the history of the Diamondbacks to get a promotion in September, when rosters expanded. He made his debut in a game where the Reds beat up the Diamondbacks heavily, but he was probably happy the Reds decided by the 5th inning that enough was enough.
He wouldn’t be that lucky in the following 3 games he’d pitch in. He would face just 15 batters in his big league career, but the lefty-lefty match-ups he got didn’t go well. His resulting 11.57 ERA was heavily skewed by a .625 BABIP and a couple of inherited runners that crossed the plate by courtesy of fellow relievers. He didn’t give up any extra base hits, but he didn’t get the batters out either. He’d pitch his final game in the last game of the season, when the D-Backs went down 3-2 at home against the Padres on fan appreciation day.
“I truly had a cup of coffee in the majors,” said Weber. “But playing a month in the majors was a dream come true for me. Getting to play in front of 40,000 fans every night is exhilarating, to say the least. [...] “Oh yeah, I think the [high school, DBE] players do know about my major league career,” Weber added. “They often tease me about my ERA in the majors. There’s a baseball video game that they play, and I have one of the worst player rankings.” - Neil Weber in a 2021 interview for a Lebanon County media outlet
His 1998 season would be his first and become his last in the major leagues. In 1999 he’d start the season in Tucson again, but 12.2 innings and a 10.66 ERA later and he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a “player to be named later”. That ended up sounding as bad as it looked since Blake Mayo was more of the demotions than of the promotions kind.
Weber didn’t end up much better as just a couple of months later he was released by the Dodgers and after a few unsuccessful stints with the Reds and Orioles he’d say farewell to baseball in 2000.
“I would’ve liked to have had a longer career,” said Weber. “But on the other hand, I’m grateful for the opportunity I got. At the end of the day, I’m comfortable that I gave everything I had, without regret. I have always tried to stay humble.” - Neil Weber in a 2021 interview for a Lebanon County media outlet
All baseball roads lead to Palmyra
Weber returned to his beloved Pennsylvania, where he had had a good time when he was still with the Harrisburg Senators in AA. According to his LinkedIn he had several sales jobs from 2000 until 2016 in the IT Communications industry.
“I worked in the technology sales field for 15 years,” said Weber, 48. “But I always stayed close to the game. It’s a passion of mine. Then private lessons evolved into helping teams. Baseball is what I love, and the opportunity came along to do it full-time. - Neil Weber in a 2021 interview for a Lebanon County media outlet
Starting 2004 he also started as a coach in baseball. In 2016 he was asked to become head coach of the baseball team of the Palmyra High School, a full time job, a position he still has until today.
“I’ve always felt that I have the second best job in the world,” said Weber. “The first is being a player, and the second-best would be coaching. I’ve found it extremely rewarding watching boys grow into young men. It’s great to be a part of a team. It’s been very fulfilling to me. - Neil Weber in a 2021 interview for a Lebanon County media outlet