EMERSON, Ga. – Past champions of the WWBA National Championship tournaments always have a big target on them when they return. It is an impressive feat to take home this title once with all that a team needs to do and all they have to get through to win. But, to come back and win a second or a third time is something that really distinguishes the elite organizations from the good ones.
The Houston Banditos Black took home the 17u WWBA National Championship title two years ago defeating the Alabama Seminoles 17u 4-0 in the finals. They were led by an extremely talented roster with over 20 NCAA Division One commitment players.
One of the leaders of that 2012 team was current Texas first baseman Kacy Clemens, the son of former major league great Roger Clemens. Now, his little brother Kody is one of the leaders of this 2014-edition of the Banditos Black.
Kody has a ton of upside to his game. Being a righthanded player in the field and swinging from the left side at the plate gives him a little bit of uniqueness compared to some of the other infielders in his class. He plays the game very fast, and it would seem he plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His style of play is directly associated with his last name.
“There is a good and a bad side about the Clemens last name, but we play with a little fire and little grit behind our name,” Kody said. “You obviously have those people who chatter at you about what he [Roger] has done and whatever, but you have got to let it go and just play for the name.”
That type of fire and grit has led him to receive a scholarship to play college baseball at the University of Texas after his graduation from high school in 2015, Kody will follow in the footsteps of his father and two of his older brothers, Koby and Kacy, when he steps on campus in Austin. The Longhorn nation has benefitted greatly from the Clemens family. With Kacy only being a freshman there this year, Kody will have the opportunity to play alongside his brother when he starts his career at Texas.
“I can’t wait,” said Kody of being able to play with his brother. “It will be the second time that I get to do it. But, it’s so much fun just knowing that I will have my brother on the field.”
In the Banditos' first pool play game against Gravel Baseball (Chicago) on Friday, Kody’s smooth lefthanded swing and confident approach at the plate led him to a 2-for-4 day. He nearly won the game for the team when he came up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied at four. He roped a line drive right at the second baseman to end the game, but he put a great swing on the ball.
“I just saw the ball well and just tried to put the barrel on the ball and put something in play,” Kody said of his effectiveness at the plate Friday. “I just tried to square something up.”
The starting pitcher for the team against Gravel Baseball (Chicago) was the highly rated Ryan Cole McKay. McKay has a huge 6-foot-5, 220-pound body that throws the ball hard. His somewhat jerky motion tends to throw hitters by not being able to see the ball out of his hand. Also, his curveball serves as an impressive out pitch from his fastball, and it fools hitters more times than not.
Against Gravel Baseball (Chicago) he pitched well enough to earn the victory. He allowed only three hits, but still he left the game with his team down 4-0. His fastball was sharp sitting between 90 and 92 mph. The variation between his pitches was impressive in that his curveball averaged to be about 13-14 mph less than his fastball, while his changeup averaged to be about 11-12 mph slower than his fastball. Pitching in front numerous scouts, he looked very good even though he did not get the exact results he was looking for.
“Obviously a lot of us have done this, and I was just really blessed to go out there and have some fun,” McKay said of pitching in front of scouts. “Obviously, I struggled a little bit today, but that’s just what the next outing is for to come back and get them.”
“I think I was hitting my spots pretty well, but not in the counts that I needed to him them. My off-speed was pretty good, but I just have got to locate better; locate in the right counts.”
McKay is what people in the baseball world call a character guy. The first thing that jumps out about him when talking to him is his love and commitment to the Lord. One of the main reasons he chose to commit to LSU was that he loved the fact that their pitching coach Alan Dunn, who he will be working with when he gets on campus after he graduates from high school in 2015, is strong into FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). McKay’s commitment to his faith is one reason why Banditos head coach Ray DeLeon thinks so highly of him.
“He’s just a great kid. He’s a Christian kid that believes in his beliefs,” DeLeon said of McKay. “A lot of people like to talk it and play it, but he’s one of the most total Christian guys there is. Sometimes I have to watch what I say around him because when you are around all these guys you sometimes have a loose tongue.
“He’s a gentleman. I’ll put it this way, if my daughters were going to marry any kid they would marry that kid. That kid’s a stud. He’s just a flat out stud. He’s just a great kid. He had a great upbringing. He has a great family. One of the best young gentleman I’ve met in baseball in a long time.”
The Banditos Black team was in jeopardy of losing their first game as they headed into the bottom of the fifth inning against Gravel Baseball (Chicago) down 4-0. With two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth, and one in the seventh, they had tied the game at four. With no outs and runners on base, they turned to bunting to try and squeeze out a final run to steal a victory. A close call at first that did not go their way, a base running mistake, and Clemens’ line drive that just happened to be hit right at the second baseman did the team in, and the game ended in a tie.
Picking up a tie is a whole lot better than starting the tournament off with a loss. That is why DeLeon was pleased with the way his team battled back and pleased with the outcome of the game. Although he is not keen on bunting and he tried to bunt three times in the bottom of the seventh inning to win the game, the only person he was a little bit mad at was himself for not trusting his instincts and letting his players swing away. But, he was still positive after the game and he described the way the team played the last few innings of the game in that “we kept the mojo alive.” That mojo may have just kept them in the running for a bracket play berth.
With the talent of Clemens and McKay, this Banditos Black team is just another example of the talent that this organization has put together in the last 22 years that they have been around. Some big names to have played for the organization are Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays. DeLeon explained that their success is all about keeping the teams in the organization together for many years.
“It all starts with our youth,” DeLeon said. “There’s no secret. We’ve been doing it for 22 years now. It’s just that 90 percent of our dugouts have been around for a while in our program. We pick up a kid here and there, 2 or 3 here and there, and before you know it you have a pretty good contender.
Being a contender is one thing, but performing well and winning the tournament is another. The Banditos Black will look to continue their run to a title against the East Cobb Patriots-17u Blue Saturday. Being able to pitch McKay again since he threw on the first day and having Clemens swinging the bat well will be key for this team as they look to bring back some of that magic from 2012.