On The Ball: Phillips one of the Ballarat City Brewers greats

MILESTONES are a funny part of sport.

Neil Phillips

Neil Phillips

They celebrate the important moments of an athlete's life from start to finish and tell the story of everything in between.

Ballarat City Brewer Neil Phillips has one hell of a milestone story to tell.

Earlier this year the 52-year-old notched up his 300th A grade match with the Brewers, a feat just four other club members (now Brewers legends) have achieved.

What separates Phillips from the rest of a very select group is the manner in which he brought up the triple-ton.

In 1995, Phillips was an integral member of the Brewers' top-level side and sitting pretty on 295 games, before he made a big decision to uproot his Ballarat heritage in favour of a Bendigo-based club.

It was a choice that would delay his great moment by nearly two decades, with the veteran catcher finally reaching the 300-mark in June of this year.

"My career was coming to an end, I got offered a position in Bendigo to play and coach and I took it up just for something different," he said of the move.

"I played with Strathfield Dodgers up there and we had quite a bit of success.

"After that I came back and played wherever and it's taken a while but I guess it's a good one to hit obviously you're in good company."

Other Brewers to surpass the 300-game mark include Paul Gladman (363), John Peddlesden (348), Hamish Burrows (329) and Brett Bennetts (307).

Phillips, described as "self-deprecating" by Brewers president Jeff Clack, labels his achievement as "embarrassing", after playing just five matches across the 1998, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 seasons.

His 35-year career in the senior ranks has seen him claim a plethora of awards, including catcher of the century and life membership inductions, not to mention a host of premiership flags during his prime days.

The 1990 flag, in particular, holds special importance, with the Brewers winning all three divisions of the Ballarat-Geelong League.

He boasts an impressive .347 batting average and fielding statistics to match.

However, as telling as the numbers are, Phillips places an infinitely higher value on mateship and comradery.

"It's not so much a game I love, it's mostly about the guys around the club that I love," he said.

"The club has been around since the 1930s and I guess I've been around for quite a bit of that."

Phillips has dedicated his time with the Brewers to helping the club grow in a town dominated by mainstream sports.

His roles of president, vice-president, committee member and coach of various teams over various years have all revolved around one ideal supporting Ballarat's junior base.

Effectively, he is the biggest success story of the Brewers' junior program, having started playing baseball as a pup in 1972 after watching now-brother-in-law John Wakeling and Clack in action.

Both Clack and Phillips estimate the latter's total club tally to be in excess of 600 matches, putting him however many home runs ahead of the next best.

The past few seasons have seen Phillips initiate a highly successful junior program alongside Dave Myers.

"Our club's been very steady but you've only ever been as good as your juniors," he said.

"If you haven't got a good junior base, your club's dead."

In his current role as vice-president, Phillips is working on integrating the club with various pockets of Ballarat's multi-cultural population.

The first phase starts this Sunday, with a come and try it day for members of Ballarat's African community.

"We're really trying to get them on board to prop us up a bit and give the kids a different outlook to soccer, football and cricket," Phillips said.

The buck doesn't stop there, with Brewers officials hoping for a rapid influx of members over the next few years brought on by the man who never stops giving.

Clack, himself a man strong with words, finds it difficult to describe Phillips and his contribution to the Brewers.

"Heavens, what do you say about Neil?," Clack says. "He's the heart and soul of the club and I'm not too sure where we'd be without him.

"Passionate, loyal, a life member and probably played more club games than anybody else.

"He's done everything."

The old saying goes that any climber who scales Mount Everest has nothing left to turn to.

Speak to any Brewers member and they will tell you Phillips has found his Everest and scaled it half a dozen times.

Which prompts the question - when you've done it all, what's left?

This season has seen Phillips manage and play catcher in Ballarat's division two side.

"My doctor would kill me (if he knew), but anyway," Phillips laughs.

When asked if he has any gas left in the tank, he gives another wry smile. "My old mate and I (Phillips gestures to Clack) look at each other and we say another year in the sun," he said.

"Well, it ain't too sunny at the moment, but if we can push some kids up while we're here, then that's what it's all about.

"We've got a good mob of guys around the club, we've been around for a long time and we're excited about this upcoming summer season."

michael.pollock@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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