From all-state high school baseball pitcher to pro decades – yes, decades – later, Dan Clemens of Castle Rock is looking back in amazement. As generations have come and gone, at 55 years old, he’s still standing on the mound, which is exactly where he wants to be.
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“We shouldn’t let age get in the way,” Clemens said.
He’s now in the ninth inning of his career. Here’s his story, inning by inning.
When Clemens was a sophomore at Douglas County High School in the mid 1980s, he wasn’t even on the varsity baseball team. He played JV, and wasn’t exactly an All-American.
Two years later, after being given a chance by a beloved coach, Clemens realized and rose to his potential. He became a decorated all-state pitcher (twice), with a scholarship to Colorado State University. He left high school with all the glittering dreams of a potential pro.
His future was shaping up just as he imagined. But a curveball would throw him off his trajectory.
Injuries would derail his hopes at CSU. Clemens suffered a torn labrum and underwent three shoulder surgeries, which is a potential nail in the coffin for a still-developing pitcher. It seemed his field of dreams was turning into a nightmare. The injuries were bad. Clemens wouldn’t be able to play and he eventually learned that he could never return to the game in college.
“This set off what I call a ‘dysfunctional relationship with the game,’” Clemens said. “I couldn’t be close to it because it reminded me of what I lost, but I couldn’t be away from the game I love either.”
In short, Clemens’ college career was over before it began.
So, Clemens went on with life – and without high-level baseball. He said he stayed away for a while, struggling with what the game had taken away from him.
The years passed until he flirted with playing again. He joined what he calls “old man leagues,” such as the National Adult Baseball Association and the Men’s Senior Baseball League, where he played for more than 20 years recreationally. It was good to be back on the field, but it wasn’t the same.
Then, an unexpected opportunity came. One of his friends and teammates, Bill Rogan (a longtime Denver-area sportscaster), was hired as a manager in the Pecos League, a 16-team league for smaller cities that do not have MLB teams.
That’s how, in 2019, at the age of 51, Clemens’ forgotten baseball dream was revived. But when he got the call, he wasn’t sure what to think.
“It was kind of out of the blue,” Clemens said. “I actually kind of thought I was getting punked, and a couple of buddies of mine would be in on the call. Once I realized it was actually for real, I was like, ‘Well, gosh we’re 30 years too late on this.’”
After some research on the league and not being able to deny his interest, Clemens knew he had to go for it.
When he showed up, he said he couldn’t help but feel out of place among players in their 20s. They were young, in their primes and raising the eyebrows at their new, older teammate.
“When I got there and saw the size and speed and skill of my teammates and opponents, that’s when reality kind of started to sink in, like ‘Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?’” Clemens said. “My teammates were very supportive, but I think they were also skeptical. Like, ‘I know we’re hurting for pitching, but I guess this is what the bottom of the barrel looks like.’ I had to very quickly earn some respect.”
So Clemens got to work on the mound, trying to forget everything, especially his age. He strived to focus solely on his mechanics and his craft. The pitches zinged over the plate, and Clemens said he was surprised at the shape he was in.
“I had struck out their number-three hitter for the second time in the game,” Clemens recalled. “It ended the third inning. And as I walked off the mound the stud in our dugout yelled to our team, ‘The dude is legit!’ And that really was, ‘OK, I think I’ve been accepted and I’m now one of them.’”
This lifted a longtime weight off Clemens’ shoulders and allowed him to focus on his game. Getting lost in the competitive energy of a high-level baseball game, it became addicting once more.
Clemens pitched four games in 2019 before the league was shut down due to the COVID-19 for two seasons. He returned in 2021 to pitch one game and pitched two games earlier this year before the Drakes’ season ended.
Last month, at age 55, Clemens became the oldest player in Pecos League history to record a win on the mound. In seven innings, Clemens scattered 12 hits and gave up only 4 runs in the victory.
The week after, Clemens started again and recorded a second win.
At that moment, Clemens’ baseball journey had come full circle. No, he would never know if he truly was good enough to be a pro in his heyday. No, he’ll never stop asking himself “What if?”
But in a small way, it was enough of an answer to bring back his joy and rediscover his true love of the game.
“When you’re out there playing, there’s a little bit of a different look in people's eyes when they’re like, ‘You’re with us and we hope you do well’ versus ‘You’re one of us, and we’ve got your back,’” Clemens said. “I feel I had labored for 30 years and loved the game, and this was one small way it showed me it loved me back.”
As Clemens began to tell his story to friends and family, he was met with several different comments like “Wow! That should be a movie!” or “Wow! You should write a book.”
He was hesitant at first, but after some thinking, he set out to do just that. He and his sister began speaking about possibilities, as she had worked on movie scripts in the past. Together, they wrote a movie script entitled “The Dude is Legit,” following his story from beginning to end.
He believes it could be the next great baseball movie, adding there hasn’t been one since “Moneyball” was released in 2011.
“A lot of the really good sports movies you think of, like ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘Rudy,’ and some of those, they’re not so much about the sports action,” Clemens said. “They’re really more about, what does the sport tell us about being human? How we can learn, grow, develop and understand ourselves a little bit better.”
The plot tackles nostalgic baseball tropes like the ever-present “baseball gods” that award or take away success from players on the field, while telling the true story of Clemens’ journey on the diamond – from suffering injuries to overcoming perceived roadblocks like age and destiny.
The script has since won four different awards from different film festivals and awards ceremonies. While currently in the fundraising stage, Clemens said he’s hopeful for pre-production to begin in the spring.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy the film, either, he said.
“I think people who are not baseball fans are going to get a lot out of it, too,” Clemens said. “They’ll see themselves in it in terms of their passions, their dreams, their lost aspirations. I’m 55 now, and it’s really easy to let age get in the way and be an excuse for not doing things. I think it’s a reminder that that’s really just a number in our head. We have amazing opportunities in the world around us to do things longer.”
It all comes back to the high school mound in Douglas County for Clemens.
It’s where he originally found the confidence to excel on the field, and he never lost that confidence. He just misplaced it after he was injured in college. It took him 30 years to rediscover it, and he wouldn’t trade the journey for anything.
It taught him many lessons, including that not even the passage of decades of time could stop him from achieving his dreams.
For more information about his upcoming film, check out www.legitdudefilm.com.
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