Clemens' success a product of dad's early dedication
Astros rookie and FBI agent father moved frequently, but always had time for baseball
HOUSTON -- The stress that comes with being a special agent in the FBI was quickly washed away for Michael Clemens when he would come home from work and see his son, Paul, waiting in the driveway with a baseball glove and ball in hand in anticipation of some catch.
A simple game of catch between father and son quickly grew into long toss and fielding grounders on a local field before Michael would take his son to the batting cage to work on his game. Before Dad could blink, Paul Clemens was on travel teams and winning awards and outgrowing his dad as a throwing partner.
"I played catch with him until he was about 14, 15 years old, and then he couldn't resist the urge to throw it as hard as he could, and I was getting too old to be taking all that," Michael said.
The Astros relief pitcher might have moved on to bigger and better things in baseball, but the father-son bond remains as strong as ever. Michael, a former special agent in the FBI who was once the Bureau's director for South Florida, tries to get to as many Astros games as possible to see his youngest son.
Paul, 25, is a rookie relief pitcher who made his Major League debut earlier this year after being acquired by Houston on July 31, 2011, from Atlanta in the Michael Bourn trade. He was 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA in his first 19 appearances for the Astros.
"It's not just a dream come true for him, it's a dream come true for us," Michael said. "He's worked very hard and played since he was little. There were lots of travel teams and games and lots of work. It just seems like it's really paid off, not only for him, but for the family who has watched him grow up in baseball."
And Paul credits his father for helping him along early in his baseball life by being around to practice with him whenever he could.
"He was just always there, always willing to help me play catch, to do whatever he had to do to make me better, and for that I'm forever grateful to him," Paul said.
Born in South Carolina, Paul moved around the East Coast as part of his father's job, spending time in the Washington, D.C., area in northern Virginia and Miami, among others. The frequent moves became a part of life for the young Clemens.
"I didn't know anything else," he said. "You know, it was enjoyable moving from Florida to Virginia to a couple of other places. I enjoyed seeing new people, new faces, getting to experience different cultures. All the moves seemed to be very good baseball-wise.
"I was always surrounded by very good baseball talent, good baseball weather, warm places I could play year-round. [The travel] was normal to me. I didn't know anything else growing up. My father worked for the government, and that's all I knew. He was my hero, and when it was time to move, it was time to move."
It wasn't only baseball that attracted Paul's fancy. He played football and basketball and even was a standout at roller hockey while living in Miami. From an athletic standpoint, there was nothing he couldn't do. But it wasn't until the family moved to northern Virginia, when Paul was around 10 or 11 years old, that his father began to see just how far advanced he was compared to other kids.
"He was able to play year-round, [and] he really developed," Michael said. "When we moved back to northern Virginia, he seemed to be ... light years ahead of his contemporaries."
One of the most special father-son moments for Paul came at the end of his senior year in high school, when his father was able to escort him onto the field during a ceremony that was a culmination of years of hard work.
"There's been so many special moments ... to point out one would be very hard," Paul said.
For Michael, it's a little easier. It came back in early April, when Paul was on the staff at Triple-A Oklahoma City and called his father to tell him he was headed to Seattle to join the Astros. His Major League debut was forthcoming.
"It was actually surreal," said Michael, who joined older son Michael Jr. at Safeco Field when Paul made his debut April 9 and threw four innings in relief to get his first win. "Honestly, I didn't expect it would be that quick out of the box, and then it just became a monumental activity to arrange a flight to Seattle. We just weren't going to miss his first moment on a Major League field."
On the field, the hard-throwing Clemens pitches with no fear and remains a live wire like he was when he was growing up. He brings a lot of energy to whatever he does and has a tremendous personality when you get to know him.
"That activity level and energy sometimes drowns out what I know to be a very warm-hearted kid," Michael said.
That warm-hearted kid still leans on his dad for psychological advice from time to time, but he admits he's not wild about his father watching him from the stands these days. He wants to perform at his best all the time, but things are different when Dad is watching.
"I generally don't like it, to be honest," Paul said. "I love him to death and he's my hero, but I guess I press a little bit and want to do more when he's here. I don't know what it is. I never seem to do well when he's around. He'll come to every game he wants to. That's my father, and any time he wants a ticket, he'll have a ticket under my name."