The Rocket Returns

 

Roger Clemens’s last baseball-related appearance could never have been in a suit and tie, asserting his innocence to a questioning American populace. We all knew this—the Rocket would never go out like a mere defendant, like another member of a trial in the public eye.

And this week, our suspicions were confirmed: Clemens, innocent of those perjury charges that dogged him for years, said he would toss at least one more outing as a professional ballplayer. However, it would not come with the Yankees, or with a return to the Astros, but with the Sugar Land Skeeters.

In their inaugural season, the Skeeters, an independent club and the newest member of the Atlantic League, have already proven themselves a hit in the greater Houston metro area. Promotions thus far have included pocket protectors and Batman lookalikes, but Clemens’s appearance has already gathered the team’s greatest amount of national publicity.

After all, Clemens, who won the 1983 College World Series with the Longhorns, is one of the most polarizing figures in recent sports memory. After accumulating 354 wins and 4,673 strikeouts in his 23-year career, Clemens seemed destined as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a name to be recalled by generations to come.

But as his career wound down, the allegations began: Jose Canseco fingered Clemens in the former’s book, Juiced, and the scrutiny increased when former teammate Jason Grimsley implicated Clemens and Andy Pettitte for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens’ appearance in the Mitchell Report sealed his guilt for many, and even though he was found not guilty on six counts of perjury, the former pitcher will have a tough time shaking the association with doping that has followed him for the last seven years.

Thus far, Clemens, who is currently a teacher and advisor with the Astros, is inked for only a one-night stint, coming this Saturday against Bridgeport at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field. “I’ve got aches and pains that I’ve never had before at this age, and when you ramp it up just a little bit, that’s where it goes,” Clemens told ESPN Radio on Tuesday. “I’m not looking any further past Saturday.”

However, should the Rocket find those five years of rust easy enough to slough off—his fastball’s recently been clocked at 87 mph—there’s no telling how deep into the season he’d be willing to pitch for the Skeeters.

And while there’s been no talk of a return to the bigs—between his age and his steroid allegations, most teams would likely shy from the prospect—Clemens, who owns some of the best numbers the game’s ever seen, will twirl for a paid audience at least one more time.

Roger Clemens plays in the 2012 Longhorn baseball Alumni Game. Photo courtesy UT Athletics.

 

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