He is only 25 years old, but Koby Clemens has the look of a journeyman.
The son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens occasionally may flash his father’s trademark smile, which seems to exude cockiness and confidence, but after years of toiling in the minors, and listening to endless inquiries about allegations swirling around his father, Koby’s grin more often than not indicates humility and sincerity.
“I’ve had a very blessed life,’’ said Clemens. “I’m enjoying every opportunity I get. I’m lucky to be where I’m at right now.’’
Drafted in 2005 by his hometown Houston Astros, Clemens has been everywhere from Lexington, Ken., to Waipahu, Hawaii, in pursuit of a dream that seems to be slipping away.
Now in his eighth season of minor league ball, Clemens has joined a new organization in a limited role but is determined to reset his focus with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats - the Toronto Blue Jays’ Double A affiliate - hoping to finally follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Some people would think that it would be a demotion to come back to Double A after being in Triple A last year,’’ said Clemens, an infielder/outfielder who plays every third or fourth day for the Fisher Cats.
“I did struggle . . . I had a down year and I’ve just got to work hard and get back up on it.’’
Clemens spent the first seven seasons of his professional career rising through the Astros’ system, and when he batted .290 with 48 home runs and 208 RBIs over two seasons with Lancaster (Single A) and Corpus Christi (Double A), momentum was firmly on his side.
Then came the jump to Triple A Oklahoma City last year, where he batted .234 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in 126 games.
On average, a ballplayer who is good enough to make it to the majors will play about 4-6 years in the minors before reaching the parent club. Houston decided not to re-sign Clemens when his contract was up after his seventh season.
Humbled and determined to get back on the road to the bigs, Clemens signed with Toronto, where his father picked up two Cy Young Awards. As fate would have it, Clemens left spring training headed for Manchester, N.H., and soon would be back in a region that he called home for the first 10 years of his life.
“This is my first time [coming back to the area],’’ said Clemens. “When you hear those accents, the Boston accent, it brings back those old memories.
“We did a preseason signing and everybody was talking about ‘I remember when I saw your dad pitch.’ It’s just awesome.’’
Clemens looks back fondly on his time growing up in the region, splitting his time between Houston and the family’s home in Framingham.
“I loved living in Framingham,’’ said a wide-eyed Clemens. “We had a house with a big backyard where I was able to ride four-wheelers. We had a blast back there.’’
Koby is also quick to recall his time spent watching his dad pitch at Fenway Park, both as a local hero and an enemy, including the time he had the hat snatched from his head when he watched Roger pitch as a member of the New York Yankees.
His family’s bond grew through the years as they shuffled around the majors with Roger, living in SkyDome when his father pitched in Toronto and wearing out a path to the ESPNZone as a 15-year-old in Manhattan.
“It’s been fun traveling and watching all the things he’s accomplished and it’s been amazing to be a part of it,’’ said Clemens. “When we lived in the SkyDome, we’d sneak down through the room service elevator at 12 o’clock at night and my dad would get a bucket of balls and we’d go to center field and play home run derby.’’
That foundation has helped to tighten the bonds of the Clemens household, even in the face of Roger’s ongoing perjury trial in Washington.
The family speaks on a daily basis and on return trips home they take to what Koby calls his father’s “midlife crisis room’’ - a garage-turned-karaoke lounge - to unwind and enjoy each other’s company.
“We’ve become even closer now and really have a great unit of family and friends at home,’’ Koby said. “You see all the stuff on TV and think, ‘Oh, it’s got to be miserable,’ but we’re at home being ourselves still. We’re just living our lives.’’
It is this kind of bond that has helped Koby through some of his own trials and tribulations, which have been magnified given the last name.
Most recently controversy swirled around him last November when Koby was playing winter ball with the Mayaguez Indians of the Puerto Rican Baseball League.
Before ever playing a game, Clemens left the team, reportedly without notice, and subsequently was banned from international play.
“I was in a great situation and was just uncomfortable, and that’s the best I can put it,’’ said Clemens. “I apologized to the team.
“I enjoyed myself while I was out there, but something personal happened and I had to go home.’’
Despite his problems on the field, countless players and coaches rave about Koby’s enthusiasm and ability to brighten the locker room.
“He’s the kind of kid with the personality that just clicks with everybody and he fit right in when he showed up,’’ said Fisher Cats teammate John Tolisano, who also played with Clemens in Peoria of the Arizona Fall League. “He’s focused on the game but puts a good atmosphere out there for all the guys.
“He likes to joke around, but, when it comes down to it, he’ll battle for you and do everything you need as a teammate.’’
A light touch
Even as he struggles early this season - batting .148 with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs in 18 games - Clemens is the one who keeps things light and lively in the dugout.
He has personalized handshakes with each of his teammates, has the clubhouse card games roaring with laughter, and after eight years in the minors knows how to guide younger teammates and pick them up when they need it most.
“A guy like that is invaluable, especially in development because a lot of times you sit there and the guys are kind of tired, kind of sluggish, but he brings life every day,’’ said Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano. “It’s fun to see a guy who really wants to come to the ballpark every day.’’
Clemens is well aware of where he stands in his career, but he is far from giving up on his dream. He is also making sure that he savors his opportunity.
“I’ve experienced a lot of great places that I’d probably never seen before, and this journey has been a blast of a ride,’’ he said.