Kenny's Korner: Clemens makes quite an impression

Roger Clemens (right) spoke with players and coaches at the California Winter League, including T-Bones manager Kenny Hook (left). (Photo by Ben Rogers/California Winter League.)
02/01/2013 2:41 PM -

Through the middle of February, T-Bones manager Kenny Hook is working as an “instructor” in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. In its fourth season, the CWL has grown into an eight-team league and become a destination for players who want to get noticed by a Major League club. The instructors are either managers from one of the independent leagues or a former Major League player. Tbonesbaseball.com is featuring regular updates from Hook as told to Matt Fulks.

In my post earlier this week, I mentioned that there was a Roger Clemens sighting here at the California Winter League. (In case you’ve missed my earlier posts, Roger’s son, Koby Clemens, is on the team that Ricky VanAsselberg and I are managing.) Really, it was more than a Roger Clemens sighting, though; he hung out here for a day, talking to the players and taking in games.

The first thing I have to say about Roger Clemens is just how impressive, gracious and likeable he was. This was the first time I’ve met him, and I can’t say enough good things about him. Say what you want about the steroid allegations or whatever, through his words to the group, it’s obvious he cares about the game and how players approach it. He talked to the group of players about their purpose for being here, about preparing to play, getting the mental edge that it takes to compete, and then keeping that edge and leaving everything on the field. He was hell-bent as a player, he said, on not letting anyone take him down mentally. That was his edge. He talked mechanics with some of the guys, and his approach to the game. He talked about some of his experiences and some of his teammates. Part of that included how there were certain guys, such as Marty Barrett, who might not have been great hitters, but Roger wanted Marty in the game because he knew that Marty would do everything possible, as a middle infielder, to take away hits from the opposition and to win games. Another interesting point was how he went from hard thrower early in his career, to understanding how to pitch and move the ball around later in his career. He talked about learning to pace himself to go deep into ballgames. It’s one thing for those lessons to come from someone like Ricky or me; it’s another for them to be coming from a Hall of Fame pitcher. (It helps me, also, to hear that.)

Through Roger’s day at the complex, the most impressive thing to me is the fierce competitiveness that came out, even when he was speaking. After that speech, Ricky and I told him that we were ready to throw on the spikes and start running sprints to make a comeback.

Regardless of the perception and all that’s going on now for Roger Clemens, I can say only that he was incredibly nice to everyone. Afterwards, he shook the hands of 160 kids, had countless photos taken and signed countless autographs. He was there to watch his son, but he made himself accessible to the group as a whole and then to individuals and the media.

As I’ve mentioned, Tim Johnson, the manager at El Paso, is one of the instructors here. Well, Tim was a coach in Boston when Roger played there, and then he was Roger’s manager in Toronto, so Roger told some stories about Tim. It’s interesting to see the admiration that Roger still has for Tim, right down to calling him “Skip.” In fact, even when Roger signs a baseball, he doesn’t sign it on what’s known as the “sweet spot,” the small area between two seems, because it’s generally reserved for a manager. That shows the respect that Roger has for guys like Tim and for the game. He doesn’t come off as thinking he’s above the game. That’s a lesson all of us can learn.