Former MLB All-Star pushes Butler High hoop players to reach potential
After 16 years in professional baseball, striking out 1,217 batters and playing in the 2005 All Star Game, Matt Clement returned to Butler Area High School partly to chase another dream and to help kids chase theirs.
“I've always wanted to coach basketball,” said Clement, who played point guard for Butler, and has been coach of the Golden Tornado's boys basketball team since 2009.
Clement's former players say he immediately earned their respect.
“You had respect for him because of what he accomplished,” said Nate Snodgrass, who now plays basketball at Northern Kentucky.
But anyone who makes Clement's team has to earn his.
“The guys who he let dress varsity, you had to earn that every day,” said Dom Pusateri, who recently committed to Waynesburg.
Clement's practices are designed to be exceptionally demanding to prepare players for anything that might happen in a game.
“The hardest workouts I've ever had were with him during the offseason,” said Logan Renwick, now a track star at Notre Dame.
Clement hopes his practices prepare his players for challenges off the court.
“The hope is that when things get tough in their lives, they can believe that they can figure it out, because they've dug deep to accomplish something else before,” Clement said.
Clement pushes his players to dream big as he did.
A round ball standout at Butler, Clement had planned to play basketball at Lafayette College, but his life changed with three innings of baseball on April 20, 1993.
A third baseman, he was called upon to pitch three innings that day to save the pitcher's arm.
Clement threw a 93 mph fastball, surprising scouts for major league teams.
“My dad had 14 envelopes after that game, and from that day until the draft, my phone rang from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.,” Clement said.
Suddenly, Clement was receiving offers for full rides to play Division I baseball at schools that had never scouted him.
“I wasn't any good, so I didn't understand all the hype,” Clement said.
He was drafted 84th overall by the San Diego Padres two months later and declined to sign a same-day $82,500 signing bonus.
“I told them they could bump it up to $1 million, and I wouldn't sign that day,” Clement said.
Clement finally agreed to a $140,000 signing bonus the day he gave up nine runs in one inning in the Pennsylvania Legion All-Star East vs. West game.
“Colleges were blindly offering me full rides thinking I would dominate, but I needed time to develop and the Padres said they'd give me time.”
Clement's players say they wouldn't be where they are without his coaching.
“He made me the athlete that I am now with the way he pushed me,” said Bobby Swartrout, who now plays baseball at California University of Pennsylvania.
While Clement pushes his players physically, he also helps them psychologically.
“I was always more of a defensive player and not a scorer,” said Cody Herald, who now plays baseball at Seton Hill.
“He told me to trust my shot, and it would start falling, and his confidence in me helped me trust myself and made me a better player.”
Clement also offers his players simple advice on where to go at the next level.
“He told me I had to like where I was going, because I had to live there for the next four years, not anyone else,” Snodgrass said.
While Clement is a partial owner of the Butler Blue Sox, a collegiate summer league team, his plans to build an athletic complex for kids were thwarted last year.
“We're still brainstorming and trying to make it work for Butler in the best possible way,” Clement said.
“If that building doesn't go up, it won't hurt me, but it will hurt a lot of kids.”
Whether Clement's plans are realized or not, he can be Butler's basketball coach for as long as he wants.
“He's someone I want around for the next 15 or 20 years after seeing what he's done so far,” said Butler's Athletic Director Bill Mylan.
Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.