DETROIT – Roger Clemens was running off a list of memorable games he has pitched in Detroit, from his 20-strikeout gem at Tiger Stadium in 1996 to an attempt at his 300th career win at Comerica Park in 2003. He was even the starting pitcher in the Yankees-Tigers game in 2007 that was delayed until 11 p.m. ET and lasted until 3:30 a.m.
Tuesday was different. He had had his kids around him, watching him, for so many big moments in his career. This time, the tables were turned as he watched his youngest son, Kody Clemens, take the field in a Tigers uniform for his Major League debut.
“Good memories here in Detroit, and now to see Kody in the uniform is pretty special,” the seven-time Cy Young winner said.
As crazy as Kody Clemens’ travel plans were to get to Detroit, having gotten his Major League callup in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Bowling Green, Ohio, on the way from Toledo to Columbus on Monday morning, his family’s scramble from Texas to get to Michigan in time for Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader was just about as improvised. But they made it — siblings, parents, grandparents, college buddies and childhood friends. And as Kody was introduced in the Tigers’ lineup as the starting second baseman for Tuesday’s nightcap, the Clemens family went wild.
Though Clemens — ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Tigers’ No. 17 prospect — went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts, his debut ultimately echoed a piece of motivational advice his dad used to give him every day.
“I said to him, ‘Every day you come to the ballpark, if you’re here, you might as well win,’” Roger Clemens said. “That’s kind of our Knute Rockne thing that we go through: You’re here, let’s friggin’ win. Find a way to do it. Because if not, it just gets really old, really quick. …
“His whole journey — and 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.”
The younger Clemens’ first reaction after the Tigers’ 4-0 win over the Twins to salvage a doubleheader split fit the image.
“Super happy we won,” he said. “I had so much fun out there. It was a blast.”
Clemens experienced the Tigers’ 8-2 loss in Game 1 from the bench with left-hander Devin Smeltzer on the mound for the Twins. While many Tigers spent the few hours between games cooling off from the first 90-degree day of the season in Detroit, Clemens counted down the minutes until the 7:10 p.m. ET start. He read congratulatory text messages from friends, former college teammates from the University of Texas and even some of his dad’s old teammates and rivals.
“The lights are better. The hitters’ background is better. The pitchers are more around the strike zone more often,” read a text message from Hall of Famer Larry Walker. “Pick yourself out nothing but strikes to hit and never look back.”
Roger Clemens enjoyed that.
“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,” he said. “It was really cool. I get to step back and be a dad and let them talk. Same thing when I drove him around the ballparks and Derek Jeter was giving him advice, or Jeff Bagwell. So it’s cool that I can sit back and listen to it.”
At one point, as Triple-A Toledo teammate Joey Wentz warmed up in the bullpen, Clemens was the only Tigers position player warming up on the outfield grass.
“I’d been sitting around with my knees shaking, getting ready,” he said. “I was ready to go. So yeah, I had some butterflies, got out there early, soaked it in a little bit.”
It didn’t take him long to get up to speed. The game’s second batter, Luis Arraez, hit a grounder his way that Javier Báez called him off of for the out, but they avoided a collision. Báez apologized, but Clemens deferred to the Gold Glove shortstop.
Once Clemens batted against Twins starter Cole Sands, a pitcher he’d doubled against in Toledo in April, he stayed in the zone.
“First pitch was a slider, then he threw me a changeup,” Clemens said. “I had a good swing on it, just hit it where [the left fielder] was standing.”
The lineout to left ended the first. Clemens drew a four-pitch walk off Sands in the third. Once the Twins went to their bullpen, Clemens struck out on changeups from Juan Minaya in the fifth and Jovani Moran in the eighth.
“Two strikeouts, but I had so much fun out there,” Clemens said.
He won’t have to wait long for his next chance. Hinch said Clemens will start in left field Wednesday against Twins right-hander Bailey Ober.
“He’s been tried many times,” Roger Clemens said of his son. “The main thing is to get here and do something well and help them win. If you’re not getting hits, [take away hits]. …
“It’s like my grandmother said: If you’re a ditch-digger, be the best ditch-digger in the country. And that’s the way you’ll see him operate, too.”