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Koby Clemens up for AFL sportsmanship award

Koby Clemens up for AFL sportsmanship award

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PHOENIX -- Roger Clemens might now be a lightning rod in the game of baseball, but whatever one's opinion of the former pitcher, there's no one who could call his work ethic into question.

In that regard, it's clear the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Koby Clemens, by all accounts, is all effort all the time.

"It was engraved in me from a young age when I wanted to become a baseball player," said Clemens, who is playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. "My dad never pushed me to play baseball, but when I wanted to go after baseball, he showed me the way, the right way to do it: Work hard and good things will happen."

And it hasn't gone unnoticed during his time here in the Arizona Fall League as the Astros first base prospect has been nominated for the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.

Created in 2004 in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect, who was killed during the 2003 Arizona Fall League season, the award has been given annually since '04 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. The six were chosen for those qualities -- the ones Stenson brought to the ballpark every day -- rather than their statistics or on-field performances. They all are, without exception, the types who have a hard-nosed attitude, players who do their jobs without complaint, who play the game the way it was meant to be played.

The manager and coaches from each team were asked to nominate one player. The AFL will select one winner from the six nominees, with the recipient receiving the award at Scottsdale Stadium prior to the 3 p.m. ET start to the championship game between the Scottsdale Scorpions and Peoria Javelinas (live broadcast on MLB.com and MLB Network).

"I've learned from my dad, nothing comes easy," said Clemens, who will get the chance to go for an AFL ring on Saturday. "You have to work hard to be good at what you do. I take that approach into every day. The fact these guys have noticed it and chosen me, I feel very honored. I'm glad some people have noticed."

While the Stenson Award is not about on-field performance, Clemens has seen his hard work pay off in Arizona. After a 2-for-5 showing on Wednesday afternoon, he had pulled his average up to .295 in 19 games. He's hit six doubles, a triple and two homers in 76 at-bats for a .474 slugging percentage. That's right in line with the .476 SLG he had in his first go-round in the Double-A Texas League (.474) and a hair better than his career mark (.465), an average helped considerably by the .636 SLG he posted in the California League a year ago.

"I've taken some things I learned in Double-A, I brought them here and taken them to the next step, playing against this good competition, this good pitching," said Clemens, who was a Texas League All-Star, finishing third in teh league with 26 homers and fourth with 85 RBIs. "It's definitely improved my game a ton.

"It's been really fun. We're out here playing against great competition, showing the scouts what we have. Meeting a great group of guys out here, we've had a lot of fun out here, won a bunch of games. It's been a real blessing coming out here."

The fact that Clemens is so sunny and positive about where hie is baseball-wise speaks to why he was nominated for this award. It certainly hasn't been an easy path for the Astros' 2005 eighth-round pick. He spent two years in the South Atlantic League, then spent two seasons at the Class A Advanced level, one in the Carolina League and 2009 in the California League. He's played third, he's caught and now he's playing first as he's shown a willingness to do whatever the organization has asked of him to help him move along.

"I've played three different positions now, doing anything I can to get up there," Clemens said. "I'm going to keep at it and hope for the best. I like to play the game the right way. I play hard, but also have fun doing it. We're all a bunch of lucky guys to be doing this for a living. There are a lot of tough jobs out there right now and we get to play baseball for our living."

Any assumption that Clemens feels a sense of entitlement, that he should get a free ride up the ladder because of his last name, dissipates after spending a few minutes talking to him and watching him go about his business. He's been fully aware for a long time just what being a Clemens means to others, but that hasn't seemed to change him in any fashion.

"When you see the last name, there's a big target on my back, people expecting great things like my father did," Clemens said. "If I can reach half of what he did, that's a pretty good Major League career. Luckily, I don't have to pitch, which makes it little bit easier.

"A lot more good has come from having the last name Clemens. I've gotten to meet a lot of players who have taught me a lot about baseball that some guys wouldn't have the opportunity to [do]and I'm thankful for it."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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