Eric McNeil was all but finished with playing baseball.
Nearly 10 years after McNeil left his hometown team in Dover for Red Lion, and later Hallam, the catcher/infielder was ready to call it quits after last season.
Then came the call that changed McNeil’s plans.
Kelly Raber, one of McNeil’s mentors during his younger days at Dover, was looking for former Dover players to come back and play for their hometown team, which was returning to the Central League after a one-season hiatus.
McNeil, 36, couldn’t say no.
“I was basically retired,” McNeil said after collecting two hits while helping his team claim a 4-3 victory over previously unbeaten Stoverstown Tuesday evening. “And it’s not that I can’t do it, but I have so many family commitments and work commitments that it’s hard for me to be able to show up.”
Raber, however, wouldn't take no for an answer.
McNeil, meanwhile, found he couldn't turn down an offer from one of the greatest players to ever wear a Dover uniform.
“I said that if Kelly calls me, I’m playing for Dover,” McNeil said. “I mean, he’s Kelly Raber. I’m never going to say no to him.”
McNeil, however, was far from the only former Dover player that Raber was able to corral. In fact the majority of this year’s team, which improved to 5-5 after a third-straight win on Tuesday, has a least some history with the organization.
Melhorn also back: That list includes another player who was out of the game in southpaw Shane Melhorn. Melhorn hadn’t put on a uniform that said Dover on the front since he last played for the club four seasons ago.
Melhorn’s story was similar to McNeil’s.
“Yeah, I was semi-retired,” Melhorn said after pitching a complete-game victory over the Tigers Tuesday. “But Kelly called me and now I’m back.”
The draw of playing with many friends from years ago was what drew Melhorn back into the game he loved with the team he still loves.
“Kelly wanted to get a bunch of the old guys back,” Melhorn said. “And he did. We’re back and we’re all feeling pretty good right now.”
In addition to McNeil and Melhorn, Raber’s roster includes former standouts such as Chris Bubb, Corey Eisenhart, John Miller, Colt Zarilla, Austin Rickrode, Mike Rhoades, Derek Slagel and Seth Weber.
Many of them share McNeil’s view of Raber, who is the team’s general manager and first-base coach.
“Kelly is a man that I looked up to,” McNeil said. “He was the man on the ball field, so playing for him is just kind of returning the favor a little bit.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.