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They learned about pro ball at early age

September 07, 2009|Kevin Baxter

Scott Van Slyke can't remember the first time he entered a major league clubhouse. But he knows he wasn't much bigger than a ball bag when it happened.

"I was born, basically, in a clubhouse," the 23-year-old Dodgers minor league player said. "I've always been around baseball."

Same with Koby Clemens, who has a video of the first time he played at Boston's Fenway Park.

"I'm like 4 or 5 years old, running down the line," the Houston Astros minor league player said. "There's priceless moments like that.

"I've gotten to grow up around what baseball's all about. And learn everything about it."

If the names sound familiar, they should. Van Slyke and Clemens are the sons of former major league All-Stars Andy Van Slyke and Roger Clemens. For them, a visit to the ballpark growing up was a little like Take Your Child to Work Day.

And those experiences are now proving invaluable since both have decided to follow their fathers into the family business.

"Other guys have a bad game and their dad's a pharmacist or does something else. These guys can't call their dads and say, 'Hey, I'm struggling. I'm fouling the fastball straight back. What do you think I'm doing?' " said Van Slyke, a 14th-round draft pick in 2005 who was promoted from Class-A Inland Empire to triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday. "I can definitely pull that out of my back pocket. And it's a great blessing."

It doesn't guarantee success, though. Because although Clemens and Van Slyke are having breakout seasons -- Clemens, playing for Class-A Lancaster, leads the minor leagues with 120 runs batted in and tops the California League in four offensive categories and Van Slyke had 23 home runs and 100 RBIs before his promotion -- Preston Mattingly, Van Slyke's former teammate with the Inland Empire 66ers, is struggling.

The middle son of Don Mattingly, a former American League most valuable player and batting champion with the New York Yankees and now the Dodgers hitting coach, Preston, 22, enters the final game of the season against Clemens' Lancaster team today hitting .238 with 149 strikeouts in 114 games.

But then the most important things Clemens, Van Slyke and Mattingly learned from their fathers aren't necessarily the kinds of things that will show up in the box score anyway. Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., the son of a former All-Star outfielder who was the National League rookie of the year in 1973, says the most valuable lessons he learned in the clubhouse involved off-the-field issues.

"Learning how to manage your time so you don't get in trouble. Controlling your diet," he said. "These are things that players like me and players that are kids of former players already have a really good level of knowledge about. These are things that you learn on the fly as a rookie. And it's an adjustment for most rookies."

That's not to say having a famous father doesn't have its benefits on the field, too.

"I've been interacting with umpires since I was a kid. So a lot of these umpires, they know my father, they know my family," Matthews said. "I walk up to home plate and they're asking 'Hey, how's your mom doing? How's your father? How's the family?' "

Having a famous last name can have its drawbacks, though. Especially in the case of Clemens, whose father, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, had his fast track to the Hall of Fame derailed by charges of steroid use and a grand jury investigation into whether he committed perjury in front of a Congressional committee.

"My dad's career speaks for itself. I just go out there and play, and prove myself," said Clemens, selected by Houston in the eighth round of the 2005 draft. "I try to show to everybody that I'm Koby Clemens and not Roger Clemens' son.

"I'm proud of my dad. I'm proud to carry the last name. It does bring a higher standard. But I'm proud to have my last name. I wouldn't change it for anything."

Clemens will be at his family's suburban Houston home hitting against a guy who won 354 major league games. But he has been around pro baseball too long to get starry-eyed in the presence of celebrity.

"I don't look at like hitting against Roger Clemens," the 22-year-old said. "I look at it like hitting against my dad."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.

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