The eighth-round draft pick by the Houston Astros in the 2005 draft, Koby Clemens spent seven years in the Astros organization before being released this past offseason. He was picked up by another of his famous father’s former organizations, the Toronto Blue Jays, and assigned to Double-A New Hampshire, where he is hitting .162 with two homeruns in thirteen games.
Craig Forde of Beyond Fenway and I recently had an opportunity to speak with Clemens prior to a recent game against the Reading Phillies. In Part 1 of a two-part interview, we talked about growing up with a famous father; what it was like to live in Boston, Toronto, and New York; and the decision to begin his professional career instead of attending the University of Texas.
CF: Life growing up with one of the greatest pitchers of all-time – what was that like for you?
For me it was all I ever knew. My dad was in the big leagues as soon as I was born, so I was used to it. I’ve had a very blessed life, everything that he’s been able to do for me. He’s just Dad to me. On the field it’s a different animal, but when he comes home and was around, and now, he’s just a big three-year-old like any other dad is, likes to just be a goofball.
It’s been fun, travelling, watching him do all the things he’s accomplished. It’s been amazing to be a part of, and to actually have the chance to play with him in 2006 was a pretty awesome day too, so it’s been a very fun ride.
CF: What about growing up, did you spend a lot of time up here? I know you were born in 1986, so ten years of his career…
Yeah, I grew up in Framingham. We had a house up there. Because I wasn’t really in competitive sports in the summertime, at a younger age, so half the year we’d spend in Boston, in Framingham and half the year back home in Houston where my school was and stuff. But in the summertime we were always up there and I loved it. I loved living in Framingham. We had a house with a big backyard. As I got older I was able to ride four-wheelers and stuff, we had a blast back there.
Going to the ballpark and spending time in Boston, I don’t know what it is, but walking into Fenway you just smell this smell. It’s just a different, awesome feel when you walk into that ballpark, and I’ll never forget it since the day I first spent time there or when I went back there as a Yankees fan and got my hat taken from me. But it’s what comes with it and it was a lot of great memories.
CF: Coming back here with the Fisher Cats, is this your first time coming back to the area to live?
Yeah, this is my first time.
CF: What’s it been like for you to come back here at this point in your life?
It’s been good. Being a Houston kid I forgot about how cold every day is up here. Like two days ago, you come outside and it’s nice and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and it’s like forty degrees with ten degree wind chill and you’re just freezing. But it’s something to get used to. The fans have been great here. When you hear those accents, the Boston accent, it brings back those old memories. The best example was when we did the signing at the weight room, the workout place that we have, we did that signing and everybody was talking about, “Oh, I remember when I saw your dad pitch,” and so-and-so and what year, you know, it’s awesome. It’s been a lot of fun.
BM: You were pretty young, still, when your dad went up to Toronto. Moving to Toronto, then to New York, what effect did that have on you?
It was a little bit different because my younger brothers, me and my brother Kory, we were starting to get a little bit more into competitive baseball, which is summertime, so we had to pick and choose our spots. But Toronto was fun because we just lived in the SkyDome. They set us up with two rooms that were connected and knocked out one of the walls so it was just this giant room with a couple bedrooms, and we loved it.
It was cool. We’d stay there for a couple weeks and even when they’d go on the road we’d stay home and watch basketball games, like watch the Raptors play there. Heck, after games we’d sneak down through the room service elevator, we’d sneak down about 11:30, 12 o’clock at night and my dad would have a bucket of balls and we’d go into centerfield and play homerun derby. I mean, it was a blast. Awesome. Everything about Ontario growing up was fun.
The transition to New York was a little bit different because we were in the city. I was the oldest out of my four brothers, I was fifteen. There’s not a lot a fifteen-year-old can do, then you’ve got my thirteen-year-old brother, at the time, then eight and six, so we’re kind of going nuts in the room after a few days in a row. There’s only so many times you can go to ESPN Zone or see a movie before you go stir crazy. But going to the ballpark was fun. Had a lot of great memories. The parades in New York, that was awesome, I’ve never experienced anything like that, with toilet paper flying over your head.
Even when he came to Houston, that was maybe the coolest thing because I always grew up rooting for Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman, kind of family friends, being from Houston, and when he decided to come and pitch with them it was different because I always kind of rooted for the Astros but rooted for my dad’s team, and now it’s together and it’s just like a whole different thing. And then we went to the playoffs, those two playoff runs were unbelievable, the stadium was rocking. But it was kind of weird having him home so much because we weren’t use to that.
Like I said, I’ve had a lot of crazy moments and memories watching him play or just all the different areas I’ve been in. Even now in minor league ball, I’ve experienced a lot of great memories of places I probably would’ve never seen before if I didn’t start this crazy journey that I’ve been on. It’s been a blast of a ride.
BM: At what point did you start getting into playing a more competitive level of baseball?
I would say about ten or eleven is when I was really starting to get into it, like knowing that if I keep at this I could be pretty good at the level. Because I first started off, I think I was ten and I was playing on a twelve-year-old team and I was playing pretty well. And then I got to thirteen and I think my pops held me back, or got me back to my own age group, and then I kept sliding up through there. I was always competitive in football and baseball, those are my two favorite sports.
BM: You say he was trying to hold you back. Was it just so you didn’t get too far ahead of yourself?
I didn’t really mature early enough. At first I was like the same height as everybody and then thirteen-fourteen-fifteen the age groups start to get a little bit different and I just didn’t hit a growth spurt or something. My dad was like, “Okay, we’re gonna hold you back, get you back with your own age group again.” And then I got to high school, freshman year playing on the sophomore team and then sophomore year played on varsity, so it took off from there. I think my biggest year was my junior year, was when I really got a different animal of like summer ball playing really well, really training my butt off, and then I got to sign with Texas, had a huge senior season, and then history’s from there.
CF: How hard was that, when you got drafted, to make the decision? Your dad went to UT, was that your favorite college growing up?
Yeah you know, our household bleeds orange, burnt orange. We love watching the ‘Horns – football, baseball, basketball, we go up and do all of their events. A few of my buddies in high school were walk-ons at Texas, either baseball or football, so a lot of connections, different ways, and obviously I was just in awe when I went on my recruiting visit. It was pretty much sold as soon as I got there that I wanted to go there. Because I didn’t really think I was gonna get drafted until the Astros had kind of an inside look at me, I guess, because I’d go up and take BP at the field lot. And hitting with that wood bat and spraying it around the ballpark, they had a little inside track. Did a couple scouting things and really didn’t look too much into it until like a week before they invited me to do a pre-draft workout up there, so I went up there and I did pretty well. Did the tests, you know, “What do you like better: a dog or a cat?” All those weird questions that I’m like, “What does this pertain to baseball?”
And then they asked me what I was looking for, I was like, “I’m not really concerned about where I get drafted. It’s just gonna take something really enticing for me to turn down education and playing baseball at Texas.” And he just said, “Okay, be ready anywhere from the fourth to the eighth [round].” Phone call comes in about the eighth round. I was about to walk outside because I was like, “I’m probably not gonna get drafted. They said listen from the fourth to the eighth.” The eighth was just starting, I was like, “I don’t care, I’m gonna go to Texas, I’ll be fine.” And then as soon as I walked outside with my dad to go take BP, my mom comes screaming, running out of the house and then it all happened and I signed.
I don’t think I’d change it for anything because like I said, all these memories and all these great teammates and all the things I’ve learned to make myself a better player to this point, I don’t know if I would’ve done that. You never know what could’ve happened if I went to Texas. But I’m very happy with everything that I’ve done to here.