The public dance between Roger Clemens and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane figures to move from the junior high version of perpendicular arms on the girl’s waist to a hand on the small of the back this week. Clemens showed increased velocity by inning as he produced a scoreless appearance on 54 pitches through 4 2/3. He allowed two hits, struck out one and looked his age fielding ground balls off the mound.
Much was made of the Rocket’s son, Koby catching him and I really think Kevin Costner missed an opportunity to remake the “Hey dad, want to have a catch?” scene from Field of Dreams. Cinema aside, his tenure as a Sugar Land Skeeter isn’t what drives headlines for Clemens. He relishes the attention and with an ESPN reporter in the dugout last night, he knew the question was coming.
So when the legendary righty replied that he didn’t think he could be ready to start in a Major League game in September, I rolled my eyes. If Clemens is talking a little, it means he’s working out a lot. The opportunity to pitch in Minute Maid Park at age 50 makes sense in the stretch run for a team sporting a sterling record of 43-95. It isn’t as ideal in April. Whether Crane and Clemens want to admit it or not, the underlying motivation of both parties doesn’t improve the Astros.
If Clemens starts against the Chicago Cubs or Philadelphia Phillies, Houston likely moves closer to a sellout than they’ve been all season. And as soon as the Rocket tosses his first pitch, his Hall of Fame clock resets and his ego can agree with his body that yes, they got back to the bigs at age 50. Allowing the story to fester through the winter and taking a spot in the rotation from a rookie during Spring Training only benefits Clemens.
This franchise won’t compete in the American League West in 2012 but there’s no reason to push a prospect like Asher Wojciechowski back to Triple-A in hopes of giving away a few more bobbleheads on Opening Day. Clemens might not say he’s ready but he’s not going to get much stronger, rediscover any more velocity or develop a screwball.
Run the Rocket out to the Minute Maid rubber next week, let folks enjoy the circus and then return to what’s working — the only thing working — by retooling this roster with young, extremely young talent. I’ll happily purchase a ticket should Clemens don those abominable pinstripes for the Astros in September but don’t let this ploy stretch to next spring. I’d rather read about the next wave of Houston farmhands than the guy old enough to be their father.