Kent Mercker, a 40-year-old father of three and graduate of Dublin High School, used to be a hard-throwing left-hander for the Atlanta Braves, a member of what many have called the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball during the last 20 years.

Kent Mercker, a 40-year-old father of three and graduate of Dublin High School, used to be a hard-throwing left-hander for the Atlanta Braves, a member of what many have called the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball during the last 20 years.

These days, things are a little different. Mercker no longer has that hard fastball to set up his curve. He's on the 40-man roster for the Cincinnati Reds, a savvy veteran who's not ready to walk away from the game.

He's used to being on the road during the summer, but he's home now, an old man by baseball standards, nursing a sore back that has forced him to the 15-day disabled list twice this season. The back ailment had become a recurring problem during the first half of this season, which had been a comeback campaign of sorts. It could heal and be fine by September, when rosters expand to 40 players -- or it could be the end.

Either way, there's no worrying about it. His three daughters -- 14-year-old Maddie, 10-year-old Sophie and 6-year-old Ava -- don't want to sit around hearing dad talk about disabled lists and 40-man rosters.

"I'm dad to them," Mercker said. "They think I'm a nerd. I embarrass them. In public when I take them to school it's, 'Don't honk, don't wave, just drop me off and get out of here.' They don't see the other side I don't think."

The side they see is dad. He is a man who has started to put together a working knowledge of competitive horseback riding, a man who guides his family on hiking trips and a man who claims he is not handy around the house but will occasionally give a repair his best shot.

Dad shows up to the horse ranch in athletic sandals, working on his golf swing with an imaginary club. Nearly two weeks ago, dad led the family so far down the wrong path while hiking in the Pocono Mountains, Ava had to be carried as they found their way back. There also was the time the dishwasher broke and dad fixed it, but not before spending a lot more time and money on the stuff he broke trying to take care of the original problem.

But it's all good. That's just dad, Major League Baseball player by summer -- normally. The difference this summer is Maddie doesn't have to make a long-distance call to tell dad how she's doing in her equestrian competitions. Sure, they spent a few hours lost in the Pocono Mountains two weeks ago, but that gave the family a lot of time to talk. As for the dishwasher, hey, at least it's working now.

"He's never had a break," said his wife, Julie, who has been with Kent since the two were in high school. "He's worked since he was 18. For him to have a summer to relax, it's so great for him. He gets to hang out with the kids and it's just nice. We've never been able to do that."

Through the years Julie has built a glass-encased shrine for her husband in a basement wall of their Muirfield Village home, which Kent was quick to say was "more my wife's doing." He seems to place more value on the photos of the people he's been able to meet along the way. In his office are photos of him with presidents and rock stars. Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder once played an hour-long acoustic set in the clubhouse after a game, he said.

"It's unbelievable the people you meet," he said.

As far as his "wife's doing," the thing that stands out is the 1995 World Series championship trophy as well as a 1994 press clipping from when Mercker threw a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's the last Braves pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Julie, deep into pregnancy with Maddie, remembers agonizing in her seat at home, unwilling to use the bathroom. She didn't want to "jinx" the no-hitter by moving.

A few years later after Maddie started school, classmates would come up to her with baseball cards, asking if she could get her dad to get them signed.

"(The cards) were never of me," Mercker said, "but (of Ken Griffey Jr. or Adam Dunn). 'Hey, can your dad get these signed?' She'd give them to me. I'd take them to the field. Then they'd always throw maybe one of mine in there as a token."

Mercker was never an all-star, never a 20-game winner, but he's managed to hang around since 1986, the year he graduated high school, when the Atlanta Braves made him the fifth overall pick in the draft.

He was in school taking a final exam when the Braves made the pick. He didn't find out he had been drafted until he got home later that day.

Julie was at her future husband's house when he received the call from Dublin baseball coach John Bandow, who had heard from the Braves. The school year was winding down and a few days later Mercker would receive his diploma, which would have been enough to get him into Michigan, where he had signed a letter of intent, but the Braves wanted him.

He soon signed a contract and received instructions when to report for a rookie ball league in Florida. In the reverie of graduation, Mercker took part in a wallyball match with other graduates. Soon they all would part ways for good, but Mercker would be a little late getting to his destination.

A 17-year major league career started with a phone call from a scared teenager to Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who at the time held the record for most career home runs in the Major Leagues. Aaron was vice president and director of player development for the Braves, and Mercker had to tell him he would be late reporting to the team in Florida because he injured himself playing wallyball.

Eventually he made it to Florida, and in September 1989 the Braves, last in the National League East Division by 10 games, called their minor league affiliate and said they wanted to see the left-hander with the live fastball face big-league batters.

After playing 16 seasons with nine teams, Mercker didn't know if he was going to play this year. He didn't want to be far from his family, and he was out of baseball in 2007 rehabbing from elbow ligament surgery. He didn't know if the arm had what it took anymore. He knew mentally "it was still in him," and playing with the Reds would afford him the opportunity to stay close to home.

"I love hanging out with my kids," Mercker said.

"I love doing family stuff, but you're here cooking out on the Fourth of July, having a great time and you have the Reds game on and I'm thinking, 'What's he doing? I could have got that guy out.'"

Photos by

Lorrie Cecil/ThisWeek