Amid the strangeness that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic this year, rare opportunities have also arisen.
Capitalizing on one of those opportunities is former Major League star Roger Clemens and three of his sons who make up the core of Team Texas – one of four teams participating in the Constellation Energy League in Sugar Land. Eldest son Koby manages the team with Roger as his assistant. Brothers Kody and Kacy play on the team, making it a real family affair.
“It’s awesome for me being out here with my boys watching them play. They’re getting great at-bats, which they needed,” Roger said. “They can ill-afford to sit 12 months without seeing live pitching and they’re seeing some great live pitching. This isn’t a mom-and-pop league, there’s some big-league arms here and I think we’ve had six or seven guys here taken back to Major League clubs. There’s another seven or eight guys that shouldn’t be here; they can really help somebody now in the Majors.”
The Constellation Energy League was created by the Sugar Land Skeeters after the pandemic led to the shutdown of Minor League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League, where the Skeeters play. Roger Clemens was a key player in bringing the league together.
“He was a big part of getting this started with the Zlotniks (team owners) and (Skeeters manager) Pete (Incaviglia),” Koby said. “It started off as conversations of ‘Hey, if we were able to get the go-head from the city and whatnot would you be interested in being a part of this?’ And my dad jumped all over it.”
“It’s great. I mean when this all started to come together with the Zlotniks and all the guys really in the front office here; we talked about it a couple weeks before it actually was going to happen,” Roger said. “And you know, when somebody zigs you’ve got to zag and I just tip my hat, there’s so many good players out here.”
Skeeters President Christopher Hill credited Roger Clemens with getting the league going.
“He had that idea to start this league and we had the ownership that was able to take his idea and put the power behind it and that’s been fantastic,” Hill said.
Not only did Roger have a hand in creating the league, but he also designed his team’s uniform.
“He designed the jerseys and the uniform, so he’s part coach and part equipment manager,” Koby quipped.
“The guy who did the uniforms for me, he really put it together,” Roger said. “He sent us a couple. I said it’s going to be hot and I need white with a little black on it. We want to be Team Texas. We’ve got a few Texas guys on the team.”
For the Clemens boys, they’re enjoying the opportunity to be teammates and to be playing professional baseball when most non-Major League players are sitting out the season.
“It’s one of those blessings-in-disguise moments where COVID is shutting everything down and this new opportunity came to life through a bunch of hard work,” said Kacy, 26, who plays first base. “I’ve played with Koby before and that was always super special but now having the ability to be in the dugout with your other brother and your dad, just covering all aspects of the game has been super cool.”
“I just think it’s something that no one will ever get to experience. Not a lot of people can ever say they’ve been coached by their dad and brother professionally,” said Kody, 24, who plays second base. “That doesn’t come around often. We’re definitely having fun with it. It’s awesome to play with Kacy again. We didn’t know that we would be able to play with each other again, so the opportunity to play in this league is pretty cool.”
All three boys have played ball with their father at some point. A fourth brother, Kory, 32, didn’t become a baseball player. Koby, 33, was a catcher for the Skeeters in their inaugural season in 2012 when Roger pitched two games.
“For me, I’ve had the opportunity of playing with my dad as a 19-year-old playing third base when he did his comeback tour in ’06 and ’07 and here in Sugar Land I got to catch him for a game,” Koby said. “I don’t know how many times that’s ever happened, father and son getting to catch each other. And these two got to play in the alumni game, playing behind him.”
“I don’t really get in the way of them,” Roger said of his sons. “They’re hitters and they know their thing. My oldest son Koby was a great hitter. Played 10 years in the Minors. Probably should have got an opportunity to play in the Majors, but he’s doing great now teaching and he works with the boys on their hitting.”
Roger said that even though he is an assistant coach, he basically lets the boys do their thing.
“I just stay out of Koby’s way. He’s doing a great job managing. These kids love him. He’s really staying in tune with everybody that’s on the roster,” he said.
Roger said he enjoyed his time with the Skeeters.
“My two starts that I had here were a lot of work but it was fun, but it was a lot of work, but I’m glad I didn’t blow anything out. It was good coverage. You had ESPN, I think we made a little money for the city and it all worked out,” he said.
Hill, who was the team president that first year, said he was grateful to have the Clemens family back.
“Roger was such a big part of that first season for us and we’re real excited to have another opportunity to work with him and now the family,” Hill said.
Kody explained that not only is it nice to have the family on the same team, but several childhood friends as well.
“Mike Capel’s the pitching coach for our team and Conner (Capel) was my best friend growing up. My dad played ball with Mike so it’s cool to have other familiar faces in the dugout on our team, so it’s pretty special,” he said.
Also on the team is University of Texas standout Ryan Reynolds, whose father Shane Reynolds played in the Majors and was a teammate with Roger with the Houston Astros in 2004.
Roger noted that the league is loaded with talented players and coaches with MLB experience, along with several top prospects whose opportunities were cut short by the pandemic.
“You’ve got (Sugar Land Lightning Sloths manager) Greg Swindell, you’ve got (Eastern Reyes del Tigre manager) Dave Eiland, another great who knows about pitching, and then one of my closest friends from college, Mike Capel, our pitching coach,” he said. “Mike not only knows pitching; he knows how to translate it to the kids to help the kids.”
Playing it safe
One of the keys to playing professional baseball for two months during the pandemic is keeping everyone healthy and safe. The Skeeters have enacted very strict rules for players, coaches, staff, and fans to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If we have a hiccup like the Marlins or Cardinals are going through this league’s probably going to be done, so we have to be mindful,” Koby said.
“It’s pretty mandatory to have a mask in the clubhouse and it’s advised to wear a mask in the dugout if you’re not playing and whatnot,” Kacy said. “We get tested every Sunday which is really good. Everyone is checked to make sure it isn’t coming around to these dugouts and clubhouses. It’s just super different. … We’re taking the precautions we have to take to keep rolling.”
“It’s a crazy time,” added Kody. “We’re very fortunate to be some of the only professionals playing outside of Major League Baseball right now. The main thing we’ve got to do to play, we’re here to do.”
Koby not only bears the weight of managing the team in a pandemic, but he is also responsible for keeping them ready for a potential call to the Majors.
“Obviously, we want to win baseball games but that’s not the ultimate objective here,” he said. “I don’t think any of the managers here are really doing that to solely playing to win. It’s more about the players and keeping them in shape and healthy and learn a little bit, too because our team is young right now and the guys can learn from my dad and myself and this man right here, Mike Capel,” he said. “We’ve been helping guys out with certain situations and pitching situations, defensive game aspects and all areas. We’re giving guys an opportunity to get jobs and stay ready because MLB has already called a handful of guys. … We’re really just a phone call away, even in this league, so we’re just helping them keep in shape and keep ready.”
Constellation Energy League is in its final two weeks, but there are still plenty of promotions for the fans. This Friday is Star Wars themed and the players will be wearing special Star Wars jerseys. Next weekend, the final weekend, will feature a bucket hat giveaway. For tickets and more information, visit www.sugarlandskeeters.com.