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Minor Leaguers open up about big league dads

Prospects share stories about favorite times with famous fathers
Minor Leaguers discussed what it was like growing up with fathers who played Major League Baseball.
June 21, 2020

To commemorate Father's Day, asked Minor Leaguers whose dads played in the big leagues to share their favorite stories, memories and advice. Some reminisced about childhood, while others recalled moments in their own baseball careers. Some are even dads themselves. All had one thing in common: they consider their

To commemorate Father's Day, asked Minor Leaguers whose dads played in the big leagues to share their favorite stories, memories and advice. Some reminisced about childhood, while others recalled moments in their own baseball careers. Some are even dads themselves. All had one thing in common: they consider their dads their best friends.

Kody Clemens, Double-A Erie: He laughs looking back at it now, but as a child it took some time to realize just how good his dad was. Of course, when your father is 11-time All-Star and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, that can seem a little hard to believe.

But for Kody, watching his father dominate opposing hitters was just part of growing up. There was one night, though, that will always stand out as special.

"My favorite memory with my dad is when he had his 300th win," Kody said. "My whole family was there and we got to go on the field and hug and congratulate him. [My brother] Kasey and I ran out and my dad gave us two little Ziploc bags and we filled those bags up with dirt from the pitching mound. ... The whole experience of him accomplishing that was awesome."

The youngest of four brothers, Kody followed in his dad's footsteps by playing college ball at the University of Texas before being taken by the Tigers in the third round of the 2018 Draft. Playing professional baseball is no easy task, but Kody has had his dad's support every step of the way. In return, the elder Clemens has been able to see some of his son's accomplishments

"My dad came up by himself for three or four days, and I hit a home run every single day he was there," Kody said. "I also hit a walk-off home run in the day game he was at. The walk-off homer was like the third day in a row and, after the game, he came onto the field. I gave him a hug and I was drenched in Gatorade from the shower at home plate."

For as intimidating -- and, OK, downright scary -- his dad was on the mound, Kody emphasizes he's the polar opposite when it comes to family.

"He's a teddy bear at home, just like a normal dad," Kody said. "No one knows the Roger Clemens outside the lines of baseball. He's such a great man. Everything he's taught me is the reason why I'm where I'm at today. He's made the man I am today."

Roger and Kody Clemens both played collegiately at the University of Texas.

Tyler Nevin, Triple-A Albuquerque: One of Nevin's favorite summers is the one he spent on the road with his father, Phil. A former All-Star for the Padres, Phil spent more than two decades in the Majors. And his son was able to spend a good portion of his final season with him.

"I was about 10 years old, so I was semi-old enough to be around him," Tyler said. "I basically traveled with him the entire summer. I would go to the field with him, shag batting practice. I'd be in the dugout during games and go run and get a bat as the pretend batboy. That summer of his last year was really fun in that regard."

Now 23, Tyler has his own professional baseball memories to share. Perhaps none mean more than when he was selected by the Rockies in 2015 as a competitive balance pick. Phil, the No. 1 overall pick in 1992, was there for it.

"Hearing my name called was one of the more special moments in my life, getting to share that with him," Tyler recalled. "I remember that night, he said, 'Now the real work starts,' confirming that while this is a great accomplishment, this is the new beginning. ... Being able to share that day with him was something I'll never forget."

Phil is set for his third year as the Yankees' bench coach, while Tyler was promoted to Triple-A at the end of last season. With all the tribulations that make up a baseball season, Tyler is thankful to have a built-in confidant to help get him through.

"I go to him when I'm at a crossroads at any point in my life," Tyler said. "Of course, if I need something basebal-related I can go to him whenever I want. I have a good source in that regard. But also, there's times when you struggle in this game. I can just go to him and not really ask him about baseball but just have a father and son conversation. Having him be there for me is priceless."

Torii Hunter Jr., Class A Advanced Inland Empire: The son of five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter had no problem following in the footsteps of his namesake. Even as a young child, he felt the excitement of going to the ballpark – especially on one specific day.

“One thing I used to look forward to all the time was family day,” Torii Jr. said, reflecting on his dad’s time with the Twins. “They would let us go out there and watch batting practice and even play a little game of our own. Those are the days I looked forward to because I got to go out there with my dad, wear the jersey, wear the pants. Those are times I’ll hold for a lifetime.”

Fast forward to the present and Torii Jr. is three years into his own professional career – and his own journey into fatherhood. The 25-year-old is making steady progress with the Angels, with whom his dad played from 2008-12. He’s also a father to Torii Hunter III, called Tres for short, and recently announced that he and his wife, Selina, are expecting their second child in January.

Torii Jr. credits his dad with teaching him the mental side of baseball and lists his favorite professional memory as the day he was drafted in 2016.

“[My dad] knew I always wanted to play baseball and that it was a dream of mine,” he said. “Getting drafted and seeing how proud he was of me and the hard work I put in and he put into me … that was pretty awesome.”

Torii Hunter Jr. with his father and mother Katrina, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Bobby Witt Jr., Class A Lexington: When the Royals selected Bobby Jr. with the second overall pick in last year's Draft, they gave him some bragging rights -- his father was the No. 3 pick in 1985.

“When I was drafted, my mom was the one that brought up that I had beaten my dad," Bobby Jr. chuckled.

The younger Witt recalls spending most of his days after school watching baseball with his dad. They'd start with an afternoon game before switching to a night telecast. That is, until his mother, Laurie, yelled at both to get to bed.

Having a dad whose career spanned more than 16 Major League seasons has its perks, with Bobby Jr. likening his dad's help to a "cheat sheet." It helps even more that his father is his agent.

"He helped me through the whole Draft process and my first year in pro ball." the Royals' top prospect said recently on the podcast. "He's done all of this, he went through the Draft process, he went through the Minor Leagues and made it to the big leagues. I'm trying to learn from him, take bits and pieces from him that have helped through his career."

Tate Matheny, Triple-A Pawtucket: Tate’s earliest memories stem from being at the yard with his father, four-time Gold Glove winner and current Royals manager Mike Matheny.

“When I was growing up, I loved the game. I loved the fact that I got to go watch my dad – that always gave me somebody to cheer for,” Tate said. “When I was growing up, my favorite memories were always going to the stadium with my dad, shagging during batting practice and getting to spend time in and around the clubhouse.

But one of the most impactful moments in Tate’s life came when his father gifted him his first glove.

“I remember having dinner with my cousins and some of our family, and my dad gave me my first glove with my name on it,” he recalled. “I remember sleeping with that glove all the time and how special that was. I’d go to batting practice, trying to catch fly balls. … I was so small that the ball knocked my glove off my hand.”

One of the more special times for the Matheny family came in a Spring Training game in Florida in 2018. Mike, who was managing the Cardinals, faced Tate, who suited up for the Red Sox. Dad, of course, didn’t let Tate have it easy.

“That was the first time I backed up any Spring Training game,” Tate said. “I got into pinch run and I remember being so nervous I could barely breathe.

“The first thing [my dad] did was call a pickoff to try to pick me off for spacing,” he said with a laugh. “I remember looking over and he was just laughing in the dugout. Those are special memories that I get to keep with me for as long as I live.”

A father of two boys, Ryker and Gunner, Tate already knows he’ll support them in whatever they choose to pursue, baseball or otherwise.

“Baseball, hockey, soccer, golf, whatever it is that they decide they want to do, I want to support them in the best way possible,” he said.

Tate and Mike Matheny exchange lineup cards during a Spring Training game in 2018.

Ryan Weathers, Class A Fort Wayne: David Weathers’ big league career spanned the better part of two decades. When that chapter of his life came to a close, he quickly jump-started a new one. The elder Weathers coached his son, Ryan, most of his childhood and through high school. The duo even won the state championship in the history of Loretto High School in Tennessee, David’s alma mater.

“All the time he’d put into me, my friends, our town … getting to share that state championship trophy with him was really cool,” Ryan said.

The Padres' first-round pick in 2018, Ryan relies on prized advice from his dad whenever he faces hardship.

“The biggest thing he’s taught me is how to deal with adversity,” Ryan said. “That first taste of failure you get, it’s not very fun. He tells me when you get knocked down, you get right back up.”

“He’s my best friend, he’s my dad. We do everything together. … Him sacrificing his time, showing me he was a dad before he was a player, that really stood out to me. I can’t wait to do the same thing one day with my kids.”

David Weathers coached his son, Ryan, to the first state championship in Loretto High School history.

Daz Cameron, Triple A Toledo: Daz had plenty to learn from his father, Mike, a three-time Gold Glove award winner and former All-Star with the Mariners. But the biggest takeaways came off the field.

“My dad teaches me how to be a good man,” Daz said. “He gives me a lot of life lessons to go about my everyday life. … He gives me mental cues to try and make sure that I’m going about things the right way.”

Daz has always idolized his father, especially when Mike would take him to the ballpark.

“What I remember most is going to the field with him and being able to hit in the batting cages,” said Daz, the 37th overall pick in the 2015 Draft who's in his fourth season in the Tigers system. “Sometimes he’d be there throwing soft toss to me or sometimes I’d be in there hitting off the tee.

“To me, it felt like the best feeling in the world to have a dad who’s playing Major League Baseball.”