AUSTIN, Texas -- During Texas' appearances in the regional and super regional rounds of the Division I baseball tournament the last two weekends, Debbie Clemens has worn a lanyard around her neck that holds a ticket from the 2014 College World Series.
It was for good luck as her youngest son, Texas second baseman Kody Clemens, tried to keep a Longhorns -- and Clemens family -- tradition alive by making a June trip to Omaha. In 1983, Kody's father, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, won the national championship with the Horns. Kody's older brother Kacy, a four-year Texas letterman, punched his ticket to the eight-team showcase as a freshman in 2014.
For Kody, a third-round Major League Baseball draft pick of the Detroit Tigers, this was perhaps his last shot to make it. After three seasons that fell short of that Omaha goal and Tommy John surgery along the way, Kody and the Longhorns were -- as he said in a preseason team hype video -- "done waiting."
As it turns out, thanks to Kody's prowess at the plate, there wasn't too much luck needed.
"This young man is the best hitter in college baseball when the game is on the line," Texas coach David Pierce said.
Clemens' performances -- particularly of late -- strongly support that claim. His 24 homers rank second nationally and second in Texas school history. His 72 RBIs also place him among the nation's elite. He has blasted 11 homers in Texas' last 16 games, including three against Tennessee Tech in the Austin Super Regional.
In that series, he made 13 plate appearances and only failed to reach base three times. He hit .625 for the series and has hit a home run in five consecutive postseason games. He has 11 RBIs in the Longhorns' six NCAA tournament games. He's one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the nation's top player.
There might not be a hotter hitter than Clemens right now.
After he doubled and homered in the second game of the super regional, Tennessee Tech coach Matt Bragga joked afterward "Uh, we may walk him every time tomorrow."
They didn't, and Clemens once again made them pay, homering in the third inning of their series-clinching 5-2 win.
"Every time he comes up to the plate, you know he's going to do something big, especially if it's a crucial situation," Texas pitcher Parker Joe Robinson said. "I heard the other team was like, 'We're not gonna pitch to Kody today.' And the first at-bat, knock. The next at-bat, home run ... and I'm like, 'They shouldn't have pitched to him today.'"
Even his accomplished dad is impressed.
"What Kody is doing this year, it's crazy," Roger Clemens said. "I'm amazed. He's my kid, I watch him, I want him to do well, but he's done some things this year that are not going to be repeated for a long time."
Kody's an almost-impossible out these days. If he's not making contact, it's likely he's walking -- something he did five times in the super regional. Ask him how he does it, and he makes it sound elementary.
"Umm, I mean, I just get the barrel on the ball," he said. "I'm definitely not up there trying to hit home runs. I just wait for the pitcher's mistake and I handle it. That's basically it."
Said Pierce, with a sarcastic smile: "It's that easy. That's basically it."
To which Kody jokingly replied: "You gotta make it simple."
Simplicity has been a staple of his development, according to his mother. When Kody was at Memorial High School in Houston, she recalls his coach, Jeremy York, inquiring about Kody because he was quieter than his three older brothers (Koby is the oldest, followed by Kory and Kacy).
"'You're not going to worry about Kody,'" Debbie told York. "'because all Kody cares about is getting his job done. He's very efficient.' And that's who he is today. Just very simple and grounded."
He's independent, too, she said. Being the youngest of four boys requires some patience, persistence and at times, ingenuity.
"I don't know if it's because I kept saying, 'Just a minute, just a minute, I'm coming, I'm coming,'" she said, "but by the time I would get to him, No. 4, he would have already figured how to get it done."
Getting to Omaha was not so simple, though. Kody arrived at Texas in 2016, when Kacy was entering his junior season. The pair hoped to make the College World Series trip together, but it wasn't meant to be. The team struggled in '16, going 25-32. The brothers' dream was seemingly dealt a further blow after Kody had to undergo Tommy John surgery that August, seemingly putting his 2017 season in jeopardy. But instead of sitting out a season, he played in mostly a designated-hitter role. His parents often watched Kody and Kacy from a dugout suite down the first-base line at Austin's Disch-Falk Field.
"The reason he did all the work to come back strong like he did was he desperately did not want to sit out a season and he wanted to play with his older brother Kacy," Roger said. "And as a family and as a dad, that was pretty cool for us."
Kacy, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 and is currently with their Class A-Advanced affiliate Dunedin, said it meant a lot to him to play one more season with his brother because "that's something that just doesn't happen very often."
"Kody's my brother, but he's also my best friend," Kacy said.
The Longhorns returned to the NCAA tournament in 2017 but lost in the regionals to Long Beach State. Entering this season, Kody was healthy, focused and determined. The surgery and recovery taught him not to take the game for granted and he hasn't wasted an ounce of his 2018 campaign. His ability to rise to the occasion has been nothing short of impressive.
For instance, in the Longhorns' Game 2 super regional win, Kody made a second-inning throwing error trying to turn a 6-4-3 double play from second base, which allowed Tennessee Tech a run. The next inning, when he came to the plate, he went deep to make up for it. When he returned to the dugout, he went to starting pitcher Chase Shugart and said "I got you. I'm sorry for that error."
"He's incredible, just watching the way he approaches his at-bats," Tennessee Tech first baseman Chase Chambers said. "He's very selective, has a great feel for the strike zone, also has a great feel for what he wants to do. It seems like every time he put the ball in play, it was solid contact, just an incredible hitter."
Said Debbie: "He was just on a mission. He doesn't let one thing get in his way. There have been no distractions. He's 100 percent committed to this team."
With Kacy gone, Kody got more comfortable stepping into a leadership role for the Longhorns. It was a similar situation when the pair was in high school. Kacy was the vocal one, York said, and Kody played the role of reliable teammate. When Kacy departed for Texas and Kody was finishing up at Memorial, he began to shine.
"The same thing has happened in college," Kacy said. "He watched me lead the team the past two years, my junior and senior year. And as soon as I stepped out, he got to step in and got to follow in his older brother's footsteps and let his true ability come out, and I really couldn't be prouder of him as an older brother."
And there was only one place Kody intended to lead the Horns: Omaha. At Texas, it's an expectation -- this is the Longhorns' 36th trip to the College World Series -- and though that box has now been checked, it's not over.
"It's going to be a fun time," Kody said, "and we have unfinished business."
The Longhorns open their College World Series run on Father's Day against Arkansas (2 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN App). It'll be a family affair for the Clemens clan, because baseball is the family business. And it just so happens that Kody's oldest brother, Koby, is coaching a youth team that will participate in a tournament in Omaha over the weekend.
For the youngest Clemens, it's a dream nearly fulfilled and a tradition kept alive. All three Clemens men who played baseball at Texas will now be able to say they've reached the ultimate college baseball destination.
"It's just incredible that Roger was there, Kacy got to go to Omaha and now Kody gets to go to Omaha," Debbie said. "That's a triple treat."