Why Roger Clemens believes his son Kody is ready for MLB as he debuts with Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

Hours before Kody Clemens made his MLB debut, Roger Clemens reminisced about his 24-year MLB career, an epic journey that included seven Cy Young awards and some memorable trips to Detroit.

Clemens, 59, has four children: Koby, 35; Kory, 34; Kacy, 27; and Kody, 26. His youngest took the field as the Detroit Tigers‘ starting second baseman for Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park.

On Monday, the Tigers promoted Kody from Triple-A Toledo. The utility player, a true second baseman, received the news from Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon in a Home Depot parking lot in Bowling Green, Ohio.

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Kody hit .283 for Toledo with nine doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 31 RBIs, 10 walked and 52 strikeouts across 45 games. He has played 325 games the minor leagues since the Tigers picked him No. 79 overall in the 2018 draft.

For his first MLB game, Kody put on the No. 21 jersey. It’s the same number his father wore with the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.

But this is Kody’s moment.

And Roger had a lot to say.

All the thrills you’ve had in your career, that call from Kody the other day, where does that stand?

“That was pretty interesting. I was like, ‘Where are you guys at? There’s a Home Depot behind you.’ He was FaceTiming and FaceTiming and FaceTiming, so I picked up, and there was Lloyd and him standing right there. They both told me at the same time. I said, ‘Oh, this is crazy.’ I was just happy for him. He’s worked really hard to get here, and it finally happened for him. I’m looking forward to it. We got everyone in scramble mode to get up here (from Texas). Once I landed in Detroit, it almost feels like a second home. My aunt lived here (in Harper Woods), and I stayed in her basement — I can’t tell you how many nights — instead of the team hotel when I came over with the other teams playing most of my 24 years in the AL East. When we came here, I stayed with my aunt. I went for my 300th (win) here (in June 2003), and of course, down the road (at Tiger Stadium), I had the 20-strikeout game (in September 1996). Good memories here in Detroit. And now to see Kody in the uniform, it’s pretty special. He’s pumped up. I’m just looking forward to it.”

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At the age of 26, you were a superstar, and Kody is starting out. Do you appreciate the grind that he’s put in to get to this point?

“He has, but his whole journey, I mean, Kody’s journey, I don’t expect it to be any different here. He makes other players around him better. He couldn’t care less about his stats. He wants to win. I said, ‘You’re come to the ballpark every day. You’re here, so you might as well win.’ That’s kind of our little Knute Rockne thing that we go through: ‘You’re here, let’s freaking win. Find a way to do it.’ If not, it gets really old really quick. The talent is there. The guys that he’s going to face, at this point, you have faced every fastball you can see. Guys obviously throw extremely hard breaking balls, sliders. Some guys at this level have a really devastating changeup, similar to my split. That might throw you off a little bit at this level.

“What’s really cool is he got texts from several of my major league teammates that have his phone and some of his coaches that played in the big leagues, some guys that you would recognize. It was really cool because I got to step back and be a dad. It was the same thing when I drove him around the ballparks. Derek Jeter would give him advice, or Jeff Bagwell. I can just sit back and let them talk. If he asks me a pointed question, I’ll try and answer it the best I can. They get on me about my hitting all the time, saying, ‘You don’t know crap about hitting, dad, so just be quiet on this one.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. I was a really good bunter.’

“But the lights are a little brighter. The backdrop is a little cleaner, so you might be able to see spin. There are very, very seasoned, professional umpires. You got to throw the ball over the plate. It’s 17 inches wide. All those things.

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What do you remember about your MLB debut?

“What turned out to be (Kody’s) birthday, May 15, was my first major league start in Cleveland, at the old stadium. 1984. The first hitter was Brett Butler with the Indians. I think I walked him on four straight pitches, and then I picked him off trying to steal. That was how I got my first out. I’m not sure who the manager was (for Cleveland), but they did everything. They tried to steal home on me that game. Everything was in fast motion.”

Your son gets called up in a Home Depot parking lot. How did you get called up to the big leagues?

“My Triple-A manager was Rac Slider. He’s a career baseball man. I just had two starts. I just got my place (to live in Pawtucket) and didn’t do anything really special. I pitched two games and got called up. I almost didn’t want to go. I just got my place set up and just got settled in. But I remember that day, getting called up. I can’t bring anything up about long bus rides at all. He says, ‘Dad, you never had long bus rides.’ I was pretty fortunate to get up there and do that. But Kody learned a lot from all of this.

“Koby was a tremendous player. He would excel in the game right now because they want you hitting the ball in the air and don’t care if you punch out. And you can elevate (pitches). I enjoyed doing that before this high, high strike was a good strike. Again, I’m happy for (Kody). The sky is the limit.

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The work Kody put in to learn different positions, not just second base and third base, how important do you think that was and how proud are you of the effort he put in?

“I think he’s done very well wherever they’ve asked him to go. I remember (in spring training 2021) they wanted him to play first base. I said, ‘You don’t even have a first baseman’s glove. You better get one.’ One of my favorite players here, and it just came to my mind for some reason, was Brandon Inge. Brandon played multiple positions and had a nice career for himself. But (Kody’s) primary position is second (base), and he can handle that pretty good. It’s fun seeing the young guys mixed with the older guys. There’s some experience that they can draw on, not only the players, but even the coaches, because they’ve been through the mill a couple times and understand what it’s like.”

What do you think about Kody making his MLB debut?

“I think it’s going to take him a little time to get some at-bats and see. I’m just talking out loud because nobody knows what’s going to happen in a couple hours. But I think everything will be fast paced. It’s like my oldest son, when he went from third base to catching with the Astros (organization). After about his ninth game catching, he got in the car, and he said, ‘Dad, everything has slowed down. I’ve seen everything.’ I said, ‘Good, now you’re relaxed.’But yeah, they’re professional hitters. He’s been tried many times. The main thing is to get here, do something well, and help them win. If you’re not getting any hits, I mean, I had some awesome teammates that were really struggling at the plate. They were worried about getting released. I said, ‘No, you’re not. I know you’re going to play 35 times this year because I’ve watched you run down balls for me that I know somebody else can’t do it. I don’t care if you’re 0-for-5 with five punch outs, you’re going to play center field because you’re going to get the ball for me.’ I remember Craig Grebeck in Toronto. He’s like, ‘I ain’t getting any hits, and they ain’t getting any hits past me.’ He was leaving skin on that turf.

“That’s what you want from your teammates, and that’s how we roll. We have a good time in the clubhouse, keep everybody loose. But when you’re out there, you take a lot of pride in it. My mom (Bess) and my grandmother (Myrtle) taught me that. They raised me. Just like my grandmother said, ‘If you’re a ditch digger, be the best damn ditch digger in the country.’ That’s the way you’ll see him operate, too. People can say this or say that, his skin is pretty thick. He’s OK with that. But I think all bets may be off right now. I wish we could do what they do in PGA. I think some of the golfers are wearing heart monitors. I’d like to see his heartbeat.”

What about your heartbeat? 

“I’m good because he’s a hitter. If he pitched, I would probably be more animated. That what I told my other guys. They pitched a little bit in college and high school. But they’re hitting, so I’ll just be up here watching and going through my computer and doing everything else I’ve been doing, scrambling to get everybody here. I’m telling you, I think I’d make a pretty good traveling secretary.”

That’s what Kody said, that he’s happy he’s a hitter and not a pitcher, so there won’t be any direct comparisons to your career.

“If I had my phone, I need to text y’all a photo from high school. I never even worked with him, but when he was going to play for Augie Garrido at Texas, I said, ‘Don’t let coach see these mechanics.’ They were pretty good. He was a closer in high school. He can wing it. He can turn it loose.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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