Rocket says he's not 'major league ready'

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By CHRIS DUNCAN, Associated Press

SUGAR LAND, Texas (AP) — Roger Clemens says his weekend start in the minors shouldn't be viewed as a prelude to a big-league comeback.

The 50-year-old Clemens is scheduled to pitch Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters against the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League.

"I don't know how much clearer I can say it," Clemens said Friday. "I'm nowhere near major league ready, nor have I been training or pitching in that type of mode."

But Houston Astros owner Jim Crane told KRIV-TV the team is open to the idea of adding the seven-time Cy Young Award winner and is sending a scout to the game.

"If it goes all right and he comes to us, we'll talk to baseball about it at length," Crane said. "The only thing we don't want to do is make it a publicity stunt. If we did it, I want to try and take it and turn it into a positive, which would be Roger's doing it for the good of baseball. The extra proceeds on the game might go to the (Astros') community charity deal to build (baseball) fields, do something positive out of it."

Clemens has a personal services contract with the Astros and he said Crane has been supportive of him.

Clemens last pitched in September 2007, with the New York Yankees. Two months later, former trainer Brian McNamee accused Clemens of using performance-enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report. In June, Clemens was acquitted of charges he lied to Congress when he denied using PEDs and he's maintained a low profile until this week.

Clemens acknowledged that he and Crane may talk, but he was vague about what that meant for his future. He did say that he wasn't interested in working for the Astros as a coach or in the front office.

"I appreciate his comments, and I'll go to bat for him, whatever he wants me to do," Clemens said. "I'm looking forward to it, when this is all said and done, whether we do something this year, or we do something in spring training, I'll get up there and demonstrate, just like I have. I like to get up and demonstrate with the guys. I'll do this the next couple of days here, too."

If Clemens appears in a major league game, it will push back his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot from the one going out late this year until 2017.

For now, Clemens says he's looking no further than Saturday and will decide later how much — or if — he pitches again. He compared the outing to a spring training start and says he's not concerned about the results.

"I'm going to go out and pitch and try and stay healthy," Clemens said. "If I feel good, I'll turn a couple loose. If I don't, I'll try and pitch a little bit, get out there and let everybody whoop it up and get out of there and let 'em start playing well."

Clemens decided to join the independent team on Monday and was introduced on Tuesday. The Skeeters, in their inaugural season, instantly gained national attention and overshadowed the Astros, who have the worst record in baseball.

The capacity at the Skeeters' home ballpark is 7,500, and all the tickets for Saturday's game sold out within 90 minutes. The team ordered 1,500 T-shirts with his name and No. 21 on the back, and Clemens' jerseys — at $15 — were hot items in the merchandise store inside the ballpark.

"Hopefully, this is not the only time he'll pitch for us," said Christopher Hill, the team's vice president of business development. "He's the biggest name in baseball."

The Skeeters' manager is former Minnesota Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti, a two-time All-Star who turned 54 on Sunday. He and Clemens became friends when Clemens pitched for the Astros and Gaetti was Houston's hitting coach from 2004-06.

Gaetti began talking to Clemens about his oldest son, Koby. Originally a first or third baseman, Koby Clemens was drafted by the Astros in 2007, and recently signed a minor-league contract with Toronto. Along the way, Gaetti texted Roger in April and asked if he would consider playing for the Skeeters.

"He said, 'That sounds interesting,'" Gaetti recalled. "I think I could go out and do five innings right now."

Clemens joked that he may not last more than two innings on Saturday.

"Get here early," he said, "'cause it might go by pretty quick. I hope it's more than one or two innings, but it might not be. I don't know what to expect. I'm going to get out here, kick my leg up and try to get behind some baseballs, and turn 'em loose."

Clemens says he bought 125 tickets for family and friends, including some former teammates.

"It's exciting," Clemens said. "It's into the summer, the kids are going back to school, it's going to be fun."

Wearing a white shirt, blue jeans and a burnt orange University of Texas baseball cap, Clemens walked into the Skeeters' clubhouse about 4:15 p.m. Friday and peeked into Gaetti's office.

"Tell me what I need to do," he said.

Clemens walked through the clubhouse and shook hands with every Skeeter, including former major-leaguer Scott Kazmir, who started Friday night. A piece of masking tape above Clemens' locker read: "Rocket (hash) 21."

Clemens reserved his last greeting for right-hander Tim Redding, who was pitching for the Astros when Clemens arrived in 2004. Redding only signed with the Skeeters a week ago.

"He just wants to be one of the guys, and it's great to have him here," Redding said. "I know we all can't wait to see him perform."

Gaetti said he's only expecting one start from Clemens, and will leave the decision to make more to the Rocket.

"I know Roger, I know what he can do," said Gaetti, who hit a grand slam off Clemens in September 1993. "I'm anticipating one start, right here. One start. Depending on how things go, and what he decides he wants to do — if he feels like he can help us win some ballgames, and he feels good about what he's doing, then why not (more starts)?

"A lot of it is going to be determined on how he feels," Gaetti said. "I'm certain that he can help us win ballgames. If that's what he wants to do, then he's more than welcome to do that. If he has other plans, then that's his deal."

As of Friday night, not even Clemens seemed certain of what may come next in his career.

"I'll get out there and get loose, it shouldn't take long in this heat," Clemens said. "I'll get after it, and we'll see how far I can go. I'm not looking past tomorrow (Saturday). I want to get through tomorrow and then we'll worry about that."

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