When Roger Clemens Made Casey Kotchman Cry
|10.08.09 at 6:46 pm ET|
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Casey Kotchman insists it’s no big deal.
He was drafted by the Angels in the first round of the 2001 draft and spent seven years in their organization before getting traded to the Braves as the centerpiece of a deal that sent Mark Teixeira from the Braves to the Angels last year. He is now making his first trip back to an organization in which he literally grew up, since his father, Tom Kotchman, has been a manager in the Angels system since 1984.
But before Tom Kotchman took his family into the Angels organization, he spent his first year as a minor-league manager in charge of the Red Sox’ High-A affiliate in Winter Haven, Fla. There, Tom Kotchman — who became a father at the start of spring training that year, when Casey entered the world on Feb. 22, 1983 — was the man who was in charge of Roger Clemens‘ introduction to the professional baseball world.
Clemens was a first-round draft pick of the Sox in 1983, a year in which he led the University of Texas to the College World Series title. The young right-hander signed in June and reported to Winter Haven. And as Tom Kotchman recalled (in a conversation a couple of years ago), there was little hope for the pitcher’s opponents.
“He saw a couple wooden bats break, he gave me a nudge and he said, ‘Skip, I like that.’ I said, ‘I think you’re going to break a few,’” Tom Kotchman recalled. “The only way you knew he was a first-round pick was by watching him pitch. He didn’t say much. He didn’t go out and buy a fancy car. He didn’t have a bunch of bling around his neck. He just wore jeans, maybe had a Cowboy hat. He’d come to the ballpark and he was all business…Coming out of Texas and coming to Winter Haven, Fla., where the heat and humidity were just awful, he could physically outrun any of our pitchers doing their condition. It wasn’t even close.”
Clemens pulled away from his opponents in equally impressive fashion. He went 3-1 with a 1.24 ERA, pitching 29 innings, striking out 36 and not issuing a single walk. Tom Kotchman was just 27, and he was just a first-year manager, but he had little doubt that a ridiculously talented individual was passing through Winter Haven.
That notion was reinforced in particularly dominating fashion in Clemens’ last start prior to a promotion.
“I remember his last game. It was a 1-0 game (against Lakeland). I remember going out to the mound because he was near his pitch count,” Kotchman recalled. “When I went out there and asked him, he said, ‘You’re not taking me out. This game’s over in three pitches.’ He didn’t mean foul ball, fly ball, pop-up. It was good morning, good evening, good night. After the game, we were shaking hands and he said, ‘I told you.’”
Clemens finished that game with 15 punchouts. There was one spectator that day who seemed particularly jarred by the performance.
That would be Casey Kotchman, who was about five months old at the time.
“When he was pitching in Winter Haven, my son was just born. He would be three or four months old. My wife brought him over for like an hour and a half drive from our house. Casey was sick and collicky,” said Tom Kotchman. “Maybe that’s the reason my son was collicky that day. He was only four months old, but maybe he saw Roger’s stuff and was having nightmares that he would have to hit off him one day.”
When he got to the majors, Casey Kotchman went on to face Roger Clemens. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout when Clemens was with the Yankees in 2007.
That, of course, was at a time when Casey Kotchman was with the Angels. Now, he will oppose the team that once signed his paychecks and that still provides his father’s income. While that will be a bit of a foreign experience, it seems unlikely to inspire as much discomfort as did the sight of Clemens when the first baseman was in swaddling clothes.
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