Phil Clements, 82, pitches complete game against players half his age

Phil Clements has been playing baseball since he was about 4 years old. He grew up in Belding, Michigan and played at Central Michigan University.

This story courtesy of WZZM13 of Grand Rapids, Michigan

By Matt Gard

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On a hot July night, beads of sweat formed on the forehead of Phil Clements as he sat in the dugout at historic Sullivan Field. He had
just finished warming up. He used both hands to raise a navy blue towel to dry his face. A Bruce Springsteen song beloved by baseball fans rang out from the stadium’s speakers.

Glory days. They’ll pass you by. Glory days. In the wink of a young girl’s eye. Glory days. Glory days.

Phil ClementsWith all due respect to Springsteen, the chorus of the song doesn’t seem to apply to Clements. Sure, he can “throw that speed by ball you” and “make you look like a fool,” but glory days haven’t entirely passed him by. The 82-year-old is still playing organized baseball with people half his age. That said, he has slowed down a little bit over the years.

“There was a time in my 20s I could throw the ball 300 feet on the fly but now the arm’s going a bit. I’ve got a little bit of the sore shoulder,” he said.

Despite that sore shoulder, Clements was scheduled as the starting pitcher for the Willie Lilly Braves, a team in the West Michigan 40+ Baseball League. He drove all the way down from his current home in Big Rapids to play. He came into the game with a strategy in mind.

“Make them hit the ball and hope somebody can catch it,” he said with a chuckle.

Clements wasn’t entirely reliant on his teammates. He was able to strike out a batter looking, and fielded a ground ball himself. But his teammates did give him plenty of run support and the Braves ended up beating their opponents by mercy rule. Clements pitched all five innings for the victors, as his wife Shirley watched from the stands.

“He’s doing really good today,” she said. “I think it’s great. I really do. I’m awful glad to see him doing something still that he can enjoy at that age.”

Phil and Shirley have been together for more than 54 years after meeting at an education conference in Chicago. Since then, she and their daughter have been
Phil’s biggest fans. Prior to the game, Shirley had given Phil a kiss and told him to have fun.

“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a wife who goes with me and travels with me to Florida or whatever and allows me to have my thing,” he said.

The trip to Florida is one that Phil and Shirley make every year so he can play in the Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers, for the South Dakota Rushmores. That event is one of the big reasons he plays in summer leagues like this one, so he can stay in shape. Clements says the way he has stuck with the sport has been key to him being able to play at his age.

“It’s the old rule that either you use it or you lose it. I’ve seen guys that have been out of baseball for 15 years try to come back and they just do overdo it and pull a
hamstring or get a sore arm or whatever and can’t go on. So I think luckily I’ve been able to do it and luckily they’ve kept asking me back,” he said.

Clements said people have been telling him he’s too old to play ball for years, starting with his sister, jokingly, when he was 35 years old. Shirley doesn’t expect that he will hang up his cleats now, nor does she want him to.

“I want him to enjoy everything he can. That’s what we’re here for, right?”