There are many aspects of our lives that are beyond our control. In some ways, life just happens. It has a way of taking us where it wants us to go.
Growing up in southern California, Neil Weber never even heard of Palmyra, Pennsylvania. So what brought Weber to Palmyra? A job? A wife? A family?
No, it was baseball.
Actually for Weber, it was all of the above. But the way it’s all played out, it almost feels like it was meant to be.
You see, Palmyra was already a pretty good place to live, and Weber has made it even better, through the game he knows and loves.
A former major league pitcher and a native of Newport Beach, California, Weber is in his fifth season of coaching the Palmyra baseball team. Perhaps an outsider at one point, Weber has stepped in and continued the Cougars’ long tradition of quality baseball, quite nicely.
“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.
“I’ve always been a student of the game,” continued Weber. “I believe there’s always something to learn, and that it’s important to learn to work with others and to treat others with respect. I’ve always liked to coach teams the way I’d like to be coached. I think all players pick up something from the coaches they played for in the past. For us, it’s not about winning every game, it’s about following the process. But I give the boys credit. They’re the ones out on the field.”
They say those who can’t play the game, coach it or officiate it. Certainly coaching baseball at Palmyra has allowed Weber to continue to fan the competitive flame that burns inside of him and to stay connected to the game, but perhaps most importantly, it’s provided him with an opportunity to teach the life lessons that he has learned through baseball.
“I think there is some credibility in the fact that the kids know my experience,” said Weber, who has the Cougars off to a 12-3 start this season. “But to be a great coach, by no means did you have to be a great player. There are also a lot of great players who weren’t great coaches. I think one of the things that helps is just the amount of games I have been a part of, that I’ve seen and witnessed. For a decade, my life was spring training, 140 games and then off to winter ball.
“Oh yeah, I think the 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.”
Weber’s stint as a major league baseball player was brief and not necessarily memorable. But by pitching in the majors, he accomplished something that all boys growing up playing baseball dream of, making it to ‘The Show’.
Following eight years as a minor league pitcher, Weber pitched in four games in relief for Arizona near the end of the Diamondbacks’ inaugural season of 1998. In his two-and-a-third innings of work, the 6-5, 215-pound Weber struck out four and compiled an uninspiring ERA of 11.57 and a WHIP of 3.43.
“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.
“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.”
During his minor league career, Weber met two people who would change the course of his life.
He met his future wife while playing for the Harrisburg Senators in the mid 1990s, then towards the end of his playing days, Weber became acquainted with Annville native and professional pitcher Gavin Osteen. Now, Osteen is one of Weber’s assistant coaches at Palmyra, and a partner in two baseball-related businesses.
“Gavin and I met in Albuquerque (New Mexico), after I was traded to the Dodgers’ organization,” said Weber. “Gavin also pitched, and he needed a roommate. His girlfriend, who’s now his wife, and my wife, were cheerleaders at Central Dauphin High School.
“Gavin and I became the best of friends, and now we own two businesses together,” Weber continued. “My wife is from Colonial Park, and she’s a Penn State grad. We just decided this would be a great place to settle down and raise a family. Now we’ve called central Pennsylvania home for 25 years.”
Weber graduated from Corona del Mar High School, then matriculated to Cuesta College in San Louis Abispo in California. He was selected in the eighth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball draft by the Montreal Expos, and he was chosen by Arizona in the 1997 expansion draft.
“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.
“Gavin and I both live in Palmyra,” continued Weber. “We always talked about how great it would be to give back to Palmyra baseball. (Former) Coach (Tim) Gingrich thought we’d be a great fit, and one thing led to another.”
In 2017, Weber was hired to replace Gingrich as the Cougars’ head coach. Currently, he and Osteen own and operate the Mid-State Mavericks baseball academy and Future Stars Tournament Baseball together.
“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.
“The game has been so great to me,” concluded Weber. “I feel blessed and honored to be a part of Palmyra baseball. For me, the biggest joy is getting to know the young men I get to coach. Hopefully, I’ll continue being a part of the development of young men, until I leave Palmyra High School. It’s very meaningful and very rewarding.”