Clemens leaves mark on Class A
Lessons offered to Yankees prospects before move to Trenton
TAMPA, Fla. -- By the time the Class A Tampa Yankees play their next game on Saturday night, Roger Clemens, who worked out at the Saddlebrook Training Complex earlier in the day, will have left town on a plane ride to Newark, N.J., for his next Minor League start with the Trenton Thunder.
But just as he will do with the Double-A affiliate, Clemens leaves behind cherished memories and lessons at Tampa.
All week, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner spent more time instructing players on the finer points of pitching than actually working on his game.
Not that Clemens wasn't getting prepared, because he amped up his already strenuous workout to get prepared for his Major League return to the Yankees in about two weeks.
While many have criticized Clemens' prorated $28 million contract, what has been neglected in conversation is the personal-service portion of the deal.
"The thing that's been misconstrued quite a bit is that I had a deal in Houston where I pitched and then didn't show up," Clemens said in March during Spring Training. "It's not like I'm pitching and then going home and sitting around."
And each day in Tampa at the player development complex, Clemens did his part, and then some, in offering his advice.
On Monday, Clemens tossed the ball around with Yankees rookie Phil Hughes and spent a good amount of time on the mound discussing the technique of pitching, including a demonstration of proper arm slot, release, leg lift and balance.
The next day, class was in session as Clemens tossed a 71-pitch practice on Field 2 at the complex. With Hughes and other young pitchers in the Yankees organization -- such as Jeff Karstens, Joba Chamberlain, Christian Garcia and Jose Veras -- looking on, Clemens worked all of his pitches while taking time out during the hour-long exhibition to explain to his "student body" everything from delivery to command to conditioning.
"He's a great teacher, and it was an honor that he would take the time for us," said Chamberlain, who first met Clemens when the 21-year-old right-hander pitched in Hawaii Winter Baseball. "He taught us how to get over the rubber in the proper way on a consistent basis and how to gather yourself so that you create and conserve energy over an extended period of time in a game. He showed us plenty more with regard to mechanics, but the biggest lesson he taught us is just how to be successful in the game by doing everything you can with a complete approach."
In addition to the lesson plan, Clemens also gave the instructional players who participated in the bullpen session a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He threw to 23-year-old Minor Leaguer James LaSala, with Hector Gonzalez and Kevin Smith posing as batters.
"To catch the greatest pitcher of all time was unbelievable," said LaSala, who grew up a Yankees fan. "This was probably the greatest day of my life."
Following the session, while speaking with the pitchers at the complex, Clemens was joined in conversation by another legend, Nolan Ryan, who gave The Rocket a phone call. Clemens put Ryan on speakerphone, and the two then talked with the pitchers in further detail about the game.
The Rocket continued to show the young players what it takes to reach the big leagues throughout the week.
The lessons and memories in Tampa climaxed at Legends Field on Friday night, when Clemens started for the Class A club.
"He gave me and the other players a lot of confidence, and he talked to us a lot about just playing the game and not being nervous," said Tampa Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli. "It was a neat experience, because he helped us out a lot and kept telling me to 'Keep working, keep working.'"
And, finally, Fort Myers Miracle outfielder Erik Lis, 23, became a legend in his own right when he homered off Clemens.
"It's something I never expected," said Lis, whose biggest homer before Friday night came during his days playing at the University of Evansville. "It felt great -- unbelievable."
So, as Clemens takes his comeback tour closer to New York, his presence will be still be felt in Tampa and beyond.
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.