Clemens works out with Minor Leaguers
Still undecided about future, hurler pitches batting practice
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Normally at this time of the year, the back fields at Osceola County Stadium draw very few spectators, considering their occupants consist of a few little-known Minor Leaguers getting a head start on Spring Training.
Thursday morning, however, was a different story. The stands were somewhat filled and reporters were everywhere -- which is what happens when Roger Clemens decides to show up.
Dressed in Astros gear and wearing an Astros Spring Training cap, Clemens hit grounders and threw batting practice to his son, Koby, along with prospects Eli Iorg and Tip Fairchild, all of whom will participate in a mini-camp prior to Minor Leaguers reporting to Kissimmee in early March.
Clemens, still undecided about his future as an active player, will be right in the middle of the action, coaching, advising, guiding the 40 youngsters scheduled to participate in the camp. This is surely a warmup to what is certain to be Clemens' next career when he indeed retires.
But until he holds that final press conference, until he puts the percentage of retirement chances at 100 and doesn't change his mind, the questions will continue. Will Clemens pitch this year? And if so, when? And for whom?
A week after giving an 80-20 ratio, 80 being the odds that he's going to retire, Clemens revealed very little about his future, except to confirm he'll be spending quite a bit of time at Osceola County Stadium in the next month or so.
"I'm not thinking anything," Clemens said. "Hopefully, until May, this will be the last time I have to address it."
Clemens has his eye on three teams -- the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox. He appears to be under the impression that none have any interest in him pitching anytime before May, but that's probably because his agent, Randy Hendricks, has stated publicly that he would encourage Rocket to agree to a half-season deal as he did in '06, should he decide to play.
Clemens insists he would prefer not to play at all, going as far as to say that he hopes all three teams will be so satisfied with the state of their rotations come May that they won't need him at all.
The chances of that being the case are slimmer than the .01 percent chance Rocket gave for his unretirement in 2003. Even if the Astros were 35-10 after two months, it's still highly unlikely club owner Drayton McLane would say, "thanks, but no thanks" if and when Team Hendricks calls.
"I feel very flattered that those three teams still make an occasional call to the Hendricks brothers to ask them where I'm at," Clemens said. "Right now, it's going to be a real slow dead period.
"I'm doing what I love to do right now. I'm going to be running around here, throwing batting practice. I'll throw BP to the big [Major League] guys if they need it. There won't be too much moss growing underneath my feet. I'm going to be moving around."
Clemens, who just a few weeks ago threw two sessions of batting practice that lasted more than an hour each during the Elite Camp at Minute Maid Park, said he feels "strong," but that he doesn't feel the same intensity when he throws off the mound now as he did this time last year, when he was preparing for the World Baseball Classic.
Getting his arm ready for a season, however, shouldn't be a problem. As Koby pointed out, regardless of the nagging aches and pains that his dad deals with -- back, groin, hamstrings -- the arm has never been an issue.
"His shoulder's almost like a robot," Koby Clemens said. "It's like a pitching machine. It's the one thing that never gives out on him, his arm."
Mark Koby down as one of the masses who has no idea what the elder Clemens has planned for the future. He'll just go by the percentages his old man recited during a recent workout together.
"That just kind of came out of the blue, because I wanted to know," Koby said. "I said, 'Dad, right now, on the spot, if they asked you if you're coming back or not, what are your percentages?' He said, '80-20.' I said, 'Coming back, or sitting out the year?' He said, 'Probably sitting out the year. Twenty percent that I'm coming back.' That was it. Then we went back to our workout."
So for now, the baseball world waits. Koby waits. The Astros wait. The Yankees and Red Sox wait. And, the fans wait.
Clemens has heard the criticism surrounding his indecision, but he insisted he's not doing any of this to purposely string people along.
"Everybody knows where I stand," Clemens said. "I don't care to play. But if that decision comes up again, it's a big decision on me. It has nothing to do with anybody else. It's a decision on me to go out and perform.
"I can tip my cap and wave my hand and do all that fun stuff and help you sell tickets by sitting in my seat. I hear from my teammates here [in Houston] and I hear from my teammates on the other teams that I played for. At one point, it's not going to work out. I'm going to go out there, I might get hurt. I don't know.
"These are the questions I ask myself. That's why I push myself so hard to find out before I get to that moment. Like I've told you year after year, the only time that I use the word 'frustrating' is when I break down, because I can't go out and perform, because that's what I get paid to do."
Clemens' 2.40 ERA in the three years he pitched for the Astros, including a 2.30 mark during his abbreviated season in '06, suggest he still has plenty to offer. Count on the Astros to be first in line when and if the Clemens sweepstakes begin in May.
"When Roger is focusing on what he wants to do, they'll get back in touch with us," McLane said. "That's what they did last year. I would imagine that would probably be in late April or early May. They will call us when it's time to talk."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.