By TIM KELLY
Maybe some of the home runs from Corey Clemens’ bat will rub off on the Phillies.
Eight-year-old Corey, who will be a third-grader at Ocean City Primary School next month, won not one, but two Home Run Derby competitions sponsored by the Phils this summer to earn a spot in the team’s Tri-State Derby finals Sept. 15 at Citizens Bank Park.
Perhaps the Phils, who seem to have difficulty rallying from behind this year, will pick up some pointers from the local shortstop/second baseman/pitcher when he goes for the age group championship of the annual youth baseball slugging competition.
“I feel great (making it to the finals) and I think I can win this one, too,” Corey said, showing confidence to match his bat’s thunder.
His story began on the sweltering July 4th holiday weekend when dad, Terry Clemens, brought his little slugger to a local contest which drew hundreds of entrants to Stone Harbor.
“We got there and had to wait three and a half hours for his turn,” his father said. “But when Corey got up there …”
Each entrant had the chance to take their cuts at 10 pitches. Corey belted six homers and three singles to score more points than anyone else in his age division and advance to the next phase of the competition.
The performance placed Corey in the Jersey Shore regional finals in Millville against winners of the other local contests.
This time, he smacked four bombs and three singles to once again place first. For his efforts, Corey secured his spot in the finals and received a trophy plaque and two tickets to the Phillies-Red Sox game.
And there was something else.
Corey, who might like basketball even better than baseball, had been asking his parents for a pair of the coveted Air Jordan “Winter Wonderland” edition sneakers for more than a year.
“I told him that if he won, we’d buy him the sneakers,” Terry said.
There were a few tense moments as some other rivals still had to bat, but his score held up for the win. Along with his new kicks came the chance to compete at his favorite team’s ballyard.
“He’s a big Phillies fan,” said Terry.
“I’m really excited to go down on the field,” was Corey’s take.
The local youngster lives in Ocean City with his dad, who is a New Jersey State Trooper, mom Cara, a guidance counselor at Absegami High School, and 10-year-old sister Peighton.
His sibling is an outstanding child athlete in her own right.
Peighton took fourth place in one of the Phils’ homer contests, excels in soccer and basketball and runs a sub-seven minute mile.
At home, the two kids enjoy hanging out together and building things with their Lego bricks.
Corey, who has been playing baseball for two years, is coached on the Ocean City Youth Athletic Association “Padres” and his age group All Star team by his dad, and he played on a local travel team.
If that wasn’t enough baseball, his fall league team has already begun practice.
He also hits off a tee and practices regularly at home.
“I hit balls, like, every day,” Corey said. “I like practicing with my dad.”
Sometimes father and son will steal an opportunity to get in more swings. If they have a few minutes to kill before having to leave for a scheduled activity, Corey will ask if he can take a few more cuts.
In addition to practice and playing so much ball this summer, Terry said one of the secrets to his son’s success lies in “great timing and a nice level swing.”
He added, “He doesn’t try to kill the ball.”
In fact, his one home run in a real game did not leave the ballpark.
“I hit it past the first baseman and then the ball went down the line past the right fielder,” Corey said.
Inside the park or out, Corey expects to connect for a few round-trippers in the finals. Just don’t ask him to choose between hitting a home run or turning a double play.
“I think I like playing in the field equally to hitting,” he said.