Friday, May 4, 2012

Clemens making a name for himself

IN 2006, more than 9,000 fans came out for a minor-league game in Lexington, Ky., to watch Roger Clemens on a comeback for his 23rd season in the majors. A 19-year-old Koby Clemens played third base that night, delivering a message to the starting pitcher in the third inning. It was one of Roger's favorite father-son moments in baseball. "It's a packed house, and he comes jogging over to the mound. I'm thinking he's going to give me a quick scouting report on the hitter, Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, said in a phone interview last week. "He says, 'Pops, if you punch out this hitter, the whole place gets a free gallon of windshield wiper fluid.'"

Koby got the laugh. The Rocket got the strikeout. "That's Koby. He'll lighten the moment," said Roger, now in the thick of a perjury retrial in Washington, D.C. 

Koby signed with the Blue Jays during the off-season after spending seven years in with the Astros, rising to Triple-A. Last week, the 25-year-old smacked an opposite-field home run, his second homer at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium this spring. No longer a prospect, Clemens must pounce on every opportunity he gets at Double-A. He would need to tear up Eastern League pitching in order to jump ahead of Fisher Cats starting first baseman Mike McDade or third baseman Mark Sobolewski. "He's worked way too hard to not continue chasing his dreams," the elder Clemens, a 354-game winner, said. "I think he's a solid first baseman and has shown to be versatile enough to play other positions. He reminds me of (A's infielder) Brandon Inge, a guy I played against a lot."

Kevin Littlefield/Staff
 Koby had his most productive year in 2009 at Advanced-A Lancaster, batting .345 with 22 homers and 121 RBIs for the Astros affiliate. That year started out similar to this season. "I was playing in a backup role, and I went into the year angry and ticked off because I wasn't playing much," he said. "All you can do is prepare yourself for the next time you get a chance. I got my chance and things took off. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow."

The 5-foot-11 Clemens, built with thick muscle from his calves to his shoulders, doesn't shy away from conversation about his father. He said the court-room drama and daily stories don't weigh on his mind as much as they did in 2008, when his father appeared before a Congressional committee and swore under oath he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. "It's a lot easier this year. Since 2008, when everything started coming out, it's made me a little bit tougher about how to handle things. Same with the family. It's thickened our skin. You find out who your true friends are," Koby said. "The best thing I can say right now is we'll have our day in court, and we're going to battle it out until the end ... Obviously, we are going through it all over again and hopefully the truth will prevail."

Debbie and Roger Clemens spend most of their time following the K-kids. The youngest boys, Kacy and Kody, play sports at Memorial High near Houston, Texas. Kory, the second oldest, graduated from culinary arts school in Austin and plans to make a career in the restaurant business. Koby may not reach the majors this season, but he's having the time of his life. It's clear the Fisher Cats are a tight group with excellent team chemistry. Koby Clemens is a big part of that, whether taking a leadership during workouts or cracking up teammates in the clubhouse. "We have a great group of guys. I've been on teams in the past when there was some bitterness or it wasn't as enjoyable hanging out. This is one of the teams where everyone enjoys hanging out and staying late, talking about the game. That's what makes baseball so enjoyable," he said.

And if he wasn't playing baseball? "Wow, I don't know what I'd be doing because baseball is all I've ever known. Obviously, I love it. My dad never pushed me to play baseball. He only said no matter what I decide to do in life, you have to put everything into it," Koby said. 

Money will never be a problem. Somewhere in a family trust, there is a bank account with millions of dollars earmarked for the Clemens kids. Roger earned more than $121 million in salary alone during his career. "I've been very blessed with everything my dad has done and what he's passing along to me and my brothers, but that's something I want to save for my family and my kids and their kids," Koby said. "I'm not planning on using that for my own benefit. I'm going to save that and let it grow and pass it along to my kids and grandkids for their education. I want to go out and make money of my own. I don't want to live off my dad. Everything he has done for me has been great, but I have to be me. We can't live under the same roof until I'm 40."

Koby jokes about forming his own reality TV show with his family. They could start filming on the next homestand at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium when Debbie and Roger arrive at the park. The Rocket said he hopes to throw batting practice during the Fisher Cats-Binghamton series from May 10-13. "They're dying to get out here and bring back the old memories of northern baseball and playing for the Red Sox," Koby said. "When they roll in here, you won't miss them. We'll all be having a good time."

(First published in the New Hampshire Union Leader.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Jessica Simpson has not delivered her baby yet. In baseball-related news, Trevor May and Deck McGuire each pitched great in Monday night's series opener between the first-place Reading Phillies and defending champion Fisher Cats. Postgame interviews:

Monday, April 30, 2012

The curious case of Brian Jeroloman

Here is the meat of my baseball column in the New Hampshire Sunday News:

Catcher Brian Jeroloman, a three-time All-Star with the Fisher Cats, paid his dues for six seasons in the minors before fulfilling a lifelong dream – sort of. In August, Jeroloman was called up by the Blue Jays but never played. He warmed up pitchers and earned big-league meal money for five weeks, not once entering a game as defensive replacement or pinch hitter.

Fans began to wonder. On Twitter, they made predictions on when he might finally make his major-league debut, creating a mock “Jero” pool. Was it a discipline issue? No. Was he hurt? How could he get hurt if he never played in a game? Jeroloman, an outgoing New Yorker who could talk a dog off a meat wagon, only offers a “no comment” when asked about the circumstances involved with riding the pine.

Jeroloman spent 37 days on the active roster with Toronto yet his 2012 baseball card shows no sign of reaching The Show. A former prospect, Jeroloman now serves as a backup catcher behind 22-year-old standout A.J. Jimenez. So what is the story behind the phantom big leaguer? (Isn’t the suspense killing you?) Yes, it was injury. Jeroloman suffered from a hand or wrist injury but everything was kept hush-hush, according to some Blue Jays teammates.

“He had the hand issue,” said lefty Brett Cecil, who first played with Jeroloman at Double-A New Hampshire in 2008. “It was tough to watch him not play, I’ve been with him for a long time, and I want to see him succeed … The type of guy Brian is, he handled probably better than anybody ever would. He is very professional about everything he does.”

J.P. Arencibia told me Jero was hurt and couldn't play. Fisher Cats reliever Danny Farquhar, who spent last September with the Blue Jays, said he knows the full story behind the curious case of Jeroloman but can’t say. “It’s supposed to be a secret,” he said.

Jeroloman, 26, has started only four games for the Fisher Cats this season. The former Florida Gator hasn’t hit for average, batting .071, but his defensive skills (specifically receiving, throwing and footwork) have been sharper than ever. He threw out three would-be base stealers in a home game against New Britain. Jeroloman may have been sent down to Double-A to start this season, but it could a blessing disguise while working under manager Sal Fasano, a long-time backup catcher in the majors.

“I have been with the Blue Jays for seven years, and it feels like I’ve learned more from Sal Fasano in one month than I have learned in seven years,” said Jeroloman, who caught Kyle Drabek’s no-hitter on July 4, 2010 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Asked about serving in a backup role, Jeroloman said, “A.J. Jimenez has a very bright future as a catcher and if there is any way I can help him, I’m glad to do so.”

Fasano has been there before.

“I see a guy who is a great worker and is just taking another step trying to get back to the big leagues. (Jeroloman) understands his role. A lot of times in development, you think playing every day is what you need. Well, there are other times when you have to learn how to play once a week,” Fasano said.

One has to admire Jeroloman’s attitude and work ethic. Last fall, he was an active big leaguer (sort of). Today he’s a backup Double-A catcher with only 14 at-bats this season. "This game can knock you down. It’s all about how quickly you get back up,” he said.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pic Potpourri

Lord Farquhar
Jonathan Diaz
2012 Opening Day
The Gamers and Matt Daly
Koby Clemens