Hard-working Clement climbs coaching ladder

A person doesn’t have to talk to former Marshalltown High School prep Mike Clement very long to see a humble, personable man who credits everyone else for his success.

He credits his dad Brad Clement and current MHS baseball coach Steve Hanson for providing a strong foundation of leadership.

More credit was given to his brother Jeff Clement, saying that the best baseball player he has ever seen lived under the same roof.

Mike Clement has no trouble deflecting the credit to others when it comes to his successful path as a player and now as a coach.

The truth is Mike Clement is talented. A talented baseball player, and a talented teacher trying to work his way up the coaching ladder.

“I am just really blessed,” Mike Clement said. “I have been around some really good people along the way. I come from a baseball family. I have worked with some unbelievable head coaches. And good players make good coaches.”

Mike Clement won’t take much credit. He should. He has certainly earned it.

He earned it when he helped Kirkwood Community College go 91-25 during his two seasons in Cedar Rapids as a college baseball player. He also was an all-conference catcher his senior year at Morningside College.

And he is earning plenty this season as the hitting coach of the Kansas State Wildcats.

K-State is currently 26-11 overall and 6-3 in Big 12 Conference play, one game behind first-place Oklahoma. The Wildcats’ offense is the best the Big 12 has to offer. They lead the league in batting average (.331), triples (19), RBIs (220), OBP (.412), slugging (.465) and runs scored (247) while sitting second in stolen bases (67) and doubles (69).

But since it’s only his first season in Manhattan, Kan., he refuses to take full credit and isn’t even sure what he is doing is the main reason for the Wildcats’ growing success.

“This is a veteran group of players that have had success in the past,” Clement said. “I am just trying to bring a lot of energy and a plan. But I am not sure if the numbers they are putting up is because of anything I have done. I just appreciate how our guys play. I have asked them to play with a chip on their shoulders and they have done that.”

Current Kansas State junior Ross Kivett disagrees with his coach.

“He is too humble to take the credit,” said Kivett, the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter who has a team-best .394 batting average. “He deserves credit. He’s established a good approach for the hitters and we’ve bought into what he is teaching. He lets us play. It is fun to play for him and he keeps us relaxed.”

Coach Clement returned to his home state this weekend when the Wildcats traveled to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The original schedule had the two teams squaring off in Iowa City on Friday and Saturday and then playing at Principal Park following an Iowa Cubs game on Sunday. But potential rain in the forecast forced all three games to be played at Duane Banks Field.

That was just fine for the Wildcats as they bounced back from a loss in the opener to take the final two games.

“My focus and our focus are to win games no matter where we go,” Coach Clement said of returning to Iowa. “I was happy to be back in Iowa this weekend though. Personally, it was good to see family and friends.”

Coach Clement said about 15-20 friends and family were in the stands Saturday, including his dad, his wife and his former coach Hanson, who also traveled to Manhattan the weekend prior to take in some Kansas State home games.

“Anybody who has ever played for Coach Hanson will tell you that he cares deeply for all of his players,” Clement said. “He is more than just my high school coach, he is my dear friend. He would do anything for his players. And there aren’t enough good words I could use to describe what he means to me.”

Hanson said he likes to use the months of March and April to get out and see former players. Usually, those former players are playing. In this case, he has made a few trips to watch a former Bobcat coach.

“I try to go a lot,” said Hanson, who coached Mike Clement back in the late 1990s. “I enjoy watching my former players and talking baseball. It is fun and it is also helpful for me because I always am able to bring home things I can use for the Marshalltown program. There is always something you can pick up on.”

The Wildcats have won 16 of their last 20 games. But before Clement took the job at Kansas State in July of 2012, he quickly moved his way up the coaching ladder.

He started as a graduate assistant for his alma mater Morningside College and also has had stops in the Cape Cod League, Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Kirkwood Junior College, University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M.

He wasn’t unhappy at any of his previous jobs. He switched from Texas A&M to Kansas State last summer for what he called “more responsibilities as a coach and in recruiting.”

“Going to Kansas State was a good opportunity for me from a responsibility standpoint,” Coach Clement said. “It was a no brainer, and I couldn’t pass it up. Texas A&M was a special place, but Kansas State was an awesome opportunity for me. This year has been great and the community loves Kansas State.”

Kansas State head coach Brad Hill said Clement’s passion, his ability to relate to the players and his recruiting ties to Texas were the three biggest factors in bringing the former Bobcat on to his staff.

“He has great relationships with his guys and that is big at this level,” Hill said. “He is a great communicator and he is there for the players 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The path Clement has taken to Kansas State is an impressive one. He has been successful everywhere he has been. So what’s next?

“I have never thought about that honestly,” Coach Clement said when asked if he ever wanted to be a head coach. “It hasn’t taken over my thought process. I am really proud of where I came from.

“I would love to be a head coach someday, but I don’t know if that is God’s plan for me. Right now, I am thrilled to be at Kansas State and involved with a great school.”

If he ever does decide to become a head coach, Hill thinks he will be a good one.

“He has great maturity about himself, he is genuine and he has passion for the game,” Hill said. “He is honest and trustworthy and parents would trust him with their children.”

Hanson admits he has no idea what it takes to be a collegiate baseball coach. But if Mike Clement can’t be a head coach, Hanson doesn’t know who can.

“He has a tremendous passion for the game,” said Hanson, who will be coaching his final season at Marshalltown this upcoming summer. “You also have to out-work guys to be at the top. He prides himself in being first to the office and he works really hard.

“At 33, he’s positioned himself very well. He knows what he wants. It’s just a matter of who wants to take a chance on a young guy.”

If the path Coach Clement has taken continues in the direction it’s currently going, that chance will come.

There is no doubt.