March 19, 2012
Koby Clemens following in dad's footsteps
By Bob Elliott, QMI Agency
Last time I saw Koby Clemens was in February of 1998.
He was 11.
He was taking his hacks inside a Houston batting cage.
Koby lined a sharp, one-hop comebacker at his father Roger.
Don’t remember the guy’s name, but I do recall telling our free-lance photographer to watch this next pitch.
“Hit the ball up the middle on me, will you?” yelled Roger, at the time a four-time, Cy Young-award winner and four-time father.
Roger bounced a half-speed pitch, hitting Koby in the hip.
Father and son laughed.
And Koby laughed again Sunday afternoon sitting in the first base dugout at the Bobby Mattick complex remembering the incident.
“He still throws batting practice and will buzz me if I hit one up the middle or stand watching one, it helps gets me ready if someone crowds me.”
The infielder is at minor-league camp with the Jays looking to make either double-A New Hampshire or triple-A Las Vegas.
Koby played seven seasons in the Houston Astros system — catching, playing third and first base — last season hitting .234 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs in 126 games at triple-A Oklahoma City before becoming a minor-league free agent.
Roger was in Dunedin earlier this spring to watch his son, auditioning as a first baseman, but was not there Sunday as Koby went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs against triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Roger was charged with three counts of false statements and two counts of perjury in connection with his 2008 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In July, after opening statements, a federal judge declared a mistrial because the prosecution revealed information already deemed inadmissible.
A new trial starts April 17.
Koby couldn’t comment on the coming trial due to an imposed gag order. It was easy for him talk about everything else.
Told by a Jays official someone wanted to talk to him, he sprinted from the third base dugout, carrying his equipment bag, to the other dugout.
“You run better than your old man,” he was told.
“Maybe, but he pitched better,” Koby said.
When did he realize his father didn’t have the same 9-to-5 job as his friend’s fathers?
“Probably middle school, our last year with the Boston Red Sox (1996), my friends would come to the house and be in awe, but my father was always dad to me,” Koby said. “Then, we went to Toronto and he was pretty phenomenal that first year.”
Roger won the triple crown leading the American League in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
“It was fun watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green swing the bat and Jose Cruz run around the outfield,” Koby said.
After Roger joined the New York Yankees, Koby served as bat boy for games against Tampa Bay and the Detroit Tigers. Clemens had a 7-2 lead in his first bid for his 300th win and left with a 7-6 lead after six, due to two unearned runs. The Yanks won 10-9 in 17 at Commerica Park.
“It always amazed me the switch he could turn when he was pitching,” Koby said. “He could rally the troops. There was always a lot of information going back and forth between him and whomever was catching.
”And after the game he would become Dad again ... unless it was a bad game.”
Koby said he didn’t have a favourite player growing up, outside of his father. He enjoyed watching Mo Vaughan, Mike Greenwell and Troy O’Leary in Boston, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada with the Yanks.
“I liked watching Ken Griffey, and I remember Jim Thome hitting a ball off the restaurant at SkyDome, was that off my dad? I’m not sure,” Koby said.
No, it was off Pat Hentgen in July of 1998, who worked Sunday’s Philadelphia Phillies-Jays game from the broadcast booth.
At double-A Corpus Christi, Koby was coached by Windsor’s Stubby Clapp.
“Man, he’s big in Memphis, he was the first Redbird player to have his number retired and they have a six-panel shot on the outfield fence of him doing his flip,” said Koby of the mural at AutoZone Park.
Clapp used to do pre-game flips a la Ozzie Smith.
Jays right-hander Kyle Drabek remembers his high school days when his Cy Young award-winning, father and Koby’s Cy Young award-winning, father would throw batting practice.
“Roger would throw smoke and my dad was ‘pfft,’ ... nothing left,” Drabek said.
Koby’s younger brother Kory, 23, works in a Houston restaurant. His other brothers are still in high school.
Kacy, 17, is a high school junior being recruited in both football and baseball. Kody, 15, plays baseball and golfs.
Koby is looking forward to the day they post the minor-league rosters at Bobby Mattick.
The whole family is looking forward to the end of the next trial.
NOAH THE GREAT
DUNEDIN — One day later Noah Syndergaard was still the buzz at the Bobby Mattick complex.
Syndergaard had his fastball clocked at 97 mph Saturday facing the Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers.
“He’s pitching at the wrong complex,” said one scout, meaning he should be a few miles down the road where the Blue Jays major leaguers were facing the Philadelphia Phillies.
The right-hander had hit 97 last season, but with four teams of players around, plus visiting scouts coming in for a look, Syndergaard caused a two-day buzz.
Selected 38th overall in North America in 2010, Syndergaard, 19, a high schooler from Mansfield, Tex., was given a signing bonus of $600,000 by scouting director Andrew Tinnish.
In three stops last season, his first full season or pro ball, he was a combined 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA. He walked 18 and struck out 68 in 59 innings making 11 starts at rookie-class Bluefield, class-A Vancouver and class-A Lansing.