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Catching Up With the Clemens Family


One big happy family: Kody on the floor with Cy the dog; (l-r) Kory, Kacy, Roger, Koby, dog Rocket and Debbie.

 

By Melanie Saxton

The Clemens crew can best be described in two words: Family unity. All six stay busy with work, school and extracurriculars. But they carve time out of hectic schedules to volunteer at the Roger Clemens Foundation and the Roger & Debbie Clemens Pediatric Wing at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. In fact, they just recently delivered rocking chairs with baseball and butterfly themes. “We have a Toronto Bluejays section, a Boston wing with Fenway Park, plus the New York Yankees… and, of course, the Astros,” says Roger.

“We try hard to provide a wonderful atmosphere for families of hospitalized children to enjoy,” agrees Debbie, who mixes some pink and soft blues into the ambiance. “We want to make their lives during such trying times a little more comfortable and a little less stressful.”

 

Giving Back

Much of Roger and Debbie’s charity work is done behind the scenes. “We help quietly, for most part,” says Roger. “Our foundation receives approximately 15 requests daily and we assist where we can.” Needs in the community are great and sometimes heart-wrenching. “Certain situations really stick with me. For instance, I was scheduled to meet with a young patient who passed away before I returned home,” says Roger. “Our hearts sank,” agrees Debbie. “I remember sitting in the grocery store parking lot, just silent at the news.”

So much of their giving flies below the radar and goes back to their roots. “I know where I came from and will never lose sight of that,” says Roger. “Many blessings have come our way. We focus on children’s charities but also other needs when it hits our desk.” For instance, recently the Clemens helped a family buy a tombstone to assist with a burial. Their foundation opened in 1992 to ensure funds went directly to people, and not overhead. “Ninety-eight percent of everything in our organization goes directly to the cause,” says Debbie. “Before, when giving to other foundations we were not quite sure how the fund were allocated.” Since 1992, several million dollars have been raised.

 

Marriage and Kiddos

Roger and Debbie have been married for 27 years. “Our boys arrived in sets,” says Debbie. Their firstborn, Koby Aaron, is 25 and a free agent after playing for the Astros. He was named in honor of Hank Aaron. “The ’Kob’ in Koby is a derivative of Jakob (or Jacob), one of my favorite names,” says Debbie. “But Sports Illustrated dubbed Roger the ’Lord of the Ks’ (the symbol for a strikeout), and for that reason we went with names that started with K.” Second-born Kory Allen is 23 and just graduated from culinary school. “Unlike mom, he uses lots of butter,” says Debbie of her son who was trained in the French style of cuisine. “He interned at several restaurants, including a place specializing in chocolate,” says Roger. “He’s now with Ragin’ Cajun and is pursuing restaurant
management.”

Then along came Kacy Austin, 17, named after the city and stomping grounds of University of Texas. “The ‘cy’ in Kacy is in honor of Cy Young,” says Roger. Kody Alec, 15, is the baby of the bunch. At 15, he’s on the golf team at Memorial High. “He may be a chip off the old block,” says Roger of Debbie’s intense interest in the sport. “I’m a golfing maniac,” says Debbie, who has earned club championships at Falcon Point and Grand Pines (a three-peat) and Shadow Hawk. “Now I understand competition, which was always Roger’s forte.”

After all, Roger has won 354 Major League games and earned seven Cy Young Awards, not to mention Most Valuable Player and Sportsman of the Year. Debbie, once a novice, started at a 40 handicap and is now down to 10.

“I just enjoy the game of golf… and the role reversal,” she says. “Now I’m out and about while Roger spends more time on the homefront.” The couple built a golf course in Scotland — The Renaissance Club — and 30 of its members are from Houston .

 

Debbie’s Busy World

In addition to golf, Debbie has many interests. She authored a cookbook dubbed the Christmas Confection Collection in 1991 with proceeds benefiting charitable organizations. The book will be republished in 2012. “Writing is a renewed passion,” says Debbie, who is now a columnist for a local publication. She also focuses on fitness and health, encouraging and inspiring women from her website.

Debbie is dear friends with former U.S. Olympic figure skater and silver medalist Kitty Carruthers Conrad, who took her to a needlepoint class two decades ago. Debbie created six Christmas stockings that first year and has been hooked on the art form ever since. “I think needlepoint has taught me many lessons, believe it or not. Perseverance. Creativity. Finishing what I start. I’m an addict, but have always made good use of my time in car pool lanes, waiting at airports and arriving an hour early at Roger’s games.” Now dubbed the Needlepoint Queen by friends, she could easily fill a coffee table-worthy book filled with exquisite designs.

 

On the Home Front

The Clemens’ expansive Hou­ston home is beautifully ap­pointed in a serene setting. Each room is filled with captivating conversation pieces, from family pictures to memorabilia. “The night Larry Bird retired I wrote his number on my hat,” recalls Roger. “He saw it during the game and called the the club house, asking me to mail it to him. Then he sent me a signed basketball in return, and I display it in our study with other autographed balls.” Muhammad Ali sent him boxing gloves. Pictures of Roger and Bob Hope adorn the book shelves commemorating the many years Roger played in the Bob Hope Classic. The actual uniform worn by Roger in the 1994 movie, Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones, is showcased on the wall.

In short, the family home is a testament to the love Roger and Debbie share. “I graduated in ’81 and went to night school at HCC. My mom was divorced and worked a lot, as did my brother and I. We developed a strong work ethic,” says Debbie. “I met Roger in ’84, got married and had babies. Motherhood became my profession and is something I’ve always, genuinely enjoyed. It’s really all about family, nurturing and supporting each other.”

While Roger traveled Debbie held down the fort, raising sons who love the game of baseball along with other team sports. “We attend many sporting events, rooting on our boys as they represent their schools and teams,” says Roger, smiling proudly. His large, extended family is important to him, including his two brothers and three sisters. “My mother worked three jobs to make sure I had the best glove. I’ll never forget that. She passed away in 2005,” remembers Roger. “The night she died I had reservations about playing. Something in the back of my mind, perhaps a premonition, prodded me to go to her, but she insisted I go pitch. And I did.” Debbie’s mother, who Roger fondly calls “Nana,” is a frequent presence in their home.

 

Pets Galore!

Family also includes a posse of cherished pets. “If I had more land, I’d be Dr. Doolittle,” says Roger, holding his Jack Russell terrier, “Rocket.” “Rocket was born 10 years ago on December 22 in our bathroom,” says Debbie, as she watches the dog serenade her husband. Rocket is especially fond of “singing” in the family’s music room. “Sug” the cat was discovered — as a forlorn and flea-ridden kitten — by Debbie as she was jogging outside their gate. Debbie is allergic to cats, but for some reason, not Sug, who is large and ginger. “We thought at first that Sug was a female. The original name was “Sugar” until we discovered his true gender,” says Roger.

“Cy,” a yellow Lab, is also part of the pack. “Two years back, Memorial High School had an auction and put the cutest puppy in my lap,” recalls Roger. “Debbie gave me a ‘don’t you dare’ look, but I couldn’t help it and started the bidding at $500.” “Of course, no one else bid!” says Debbie. But it turned out that Cy’s grandfather was a world champion and No. 1 hunting dog in the nation. “We found out that we had to register our puppy formally and with guidelines. Cyrus Young St. Clemens just turned two and is huge!” says Roger, who may breed Cy in the future. Rounding out the menagerie is “Kuddles” with a K, a ridiculously big English Bulldog.

 

Looking Back and Fashion Forward

Roger has played 24 Major League seasons. “It’s what I did, but not who I am,” he says. Debbie agrees. “We weren’t the family watching his stats… when Roger is home, he’s just ‘Dad.’” Roger has retired and unretired three times, but is glad he returned. “It meant three wonderful years in Houston,” he says. Debbie fondly recalls years past. “Times were so electric when the Astros were winning. This town was so excited about 2004 and 2005. I remember looking down at 20 or more people wearing my jackets.” In fact, another of Debbie’s talents includes fashion design. She specializes in jackets and once hand-made 1,000 hats, one rhinestone at a time. “I’m so busy lately, golfing in April and May and also October and November, but I’ll have new jackets ready to debut for 2012.”

 

Memorable Baseball Fans

One of Roger’s fondest memories revolves around his sister, Janet, and her love of all things Wizard of Oz. “Years ago in spring training my son Koby got me off the field. ‘Dad, you’re going to want to see this,’ he said. And there stood Mickey Carroll, one of the last surviving Munchkins from the 1939 film,” says Roger. “He had heard about Janet’s interest in The Wizard of Oz and said, ‘You might want my autograph,’ handing me an 8 x 10 photo. He also had a little pair of ruby slippers. We stayed in touch until his death in 2009.”

 

The Future

Debbie will continue with golf, creative work, raising her sons and acting as Roger’s go-to person and “pin cushion,” as he fondly refers to her. Roger has a 10-year personal service contract with Houston, a part of his contract with Drayton McLane. “I enjoy teaching. I don’t coach, and there’s a difference. I can adjust a pep or motivational talk to that specific person so he has something to work off of. At times I’ll have 15 professionals come over to throw or hit. Thank goodness I’ve taken pretty good care of myself and can throw with them,” says Roger.

He’s never officially retired and believes people can be good at something if they do it 1,000 times. “But they can be great if they do it 100,000 times,” he advises. “I admire that Roger has stayed in baseball for 25 years,” says Debbie. “He sticks with it and is tenacious. Now he’s giving back his knowledge and expertise to children and young players who need a mentor.”

Roger likes to donate more than just tickets, autographed baseballs or jerseys. He donates something personal, namely his time. “Often people will auction my time, perhaps 4-hour intervals, and 12 or 15 Little League kids get invited to my batting cage at my home. We feed them James Coney Island. Or sometimes we sponsor a destination golf outing with three or four guys. It’s so much more meaningful than an 8 x 10 photo or cleats.” He’ll be flying to Italy in August to teach baseball.

Stay Tuned

The family has stood united and has become stronger, thanks in no small part to the many people who love the Clemens clan. “We are thankful to people who have supported and prayed for us. We are blessed by our friends,” says Debbie. “Our kids have grown up under a microscope and are grounded and rooted in faith. We’ve learned to tune out the negativity.” The Clemenses have thick skins, an admirable work ethic, big hearts and follow Roger’s favorite old edict: “Don’t get in a pissing contest with a skunk!” They look forward to a new year.

Visit the Clemens Foundation at rogerclemensonline.com. Debbie’s designs and health tips can be found at debbieclemens.com. Learn more about the Roger & Debbie Clemens Pediatric Wing by visiting childrens.memorialhermann.org/Services/pediatric-hospital-houston. And check out The Renaissance Club at trcaa.com.

Debbie and Roger enjoying a beautiful landscape.

Roger gives Cy a shampoo

One of Debbie’s jacket designs.

Roger enjoying golf at one of the lodges at the Renaissance course in Scotland

 


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