Koby Clemens takes Dad deep at Astros' minor league camp

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Roger Clemens' son took dad deep on the Rocket's first pitch of spring training, crushing a trademark fastball over the left-field fence Monday.

"That was probably one of the harder fastballs I cut loose," Roger Clemens said after throwing to Koby and other Houston Astros minor-leaguers. "He got my attention."

Then the Rocket got Koby's. The next time his oldest son came to the plate, Roger buzzed him high and tight with another fastball. The younger Clemens dodged the pitch, then smiled at his father.

"He was like, 'Sorry about that pitch inside. I was trying to change the view of the ball for you a little bit,"' said Koby, a third baseman who was drafted by Houston last summer. "I said, 'I knew what you were doing."'

Clemens, 43, got applause from about 100 fans as he walked to the mound behind the Astros' minor-league complex. He threw 18 pitches from behind a screen before his 19-year-old son's homer on his first pitch after the screen was moved away.

"I'm getting old," Clemens said. "It happens."

But based on what he saw Monday, Koby thinks Dad's still got it.

"He's just hitting the spots out there," Koby said. "His stuff is pretty nasty."

Clemens threw a total of 66 pitches to Astros' minor-leaguers in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, then said he's no closer to deciding his future beyond the event. Baseball officials approved the appearance.

Clemens led the major leagues with a 1.87 ERA last season and became a free agent when the NL champions didn't offer him salary arbitration. He has said he'll decide after the tournament whether he'll play a 23rd season.

"If you asked me today, I'm doing the world baseball deal and [then] I'm going to go watch baseball," Clemens said.

But asked if he was retiring, Clemens shied away.

"I'm not even going to mention that word," Clemens said. "I've been trying to do that for a couple of years now and it's not working."

Clemens can't re-sign with the Astros until May 1. But he could sign with another team before that and Boston, the New York Yankees and Texas have told Clemens they're interested.

Clemens said he might put off a decision until midsummer.

"I don't know what will happen down the road," he said. "I might be sitting around in May, June, July and all of a sudden, I'm looking at three or four teams that came down to talk to me already and gave me their pitch."

Between three "innings" on the mound, Clemens stretched behind second base with Brian McNamee, his personal strength coach for the last 10 years. He stretched again after he was done pitching and felt "close" to 100 percent afterward.

"I don't think I'm ever going to be too far behind," Clemens said. "Right now, my arm is a little bit ahead of the curve. I want to make sure my legs are where they need to be."

Clemens has said he won't sign with a team if he thinks his body won't make it through another season. He physically broke down late last year, leaving after two innings in Game 1 of the World Series.

He's working through the same rigorous offseason regimen he always has with McNamee. To get ready for the World Classic, Clemens has been throwing to players at a Houston high school and at the University of Texas, his alma mater.

"For me, it's almost like I turn into a robot, I've done it for so many years," Clemens said. "I'm a creature of habit. I've got a great program, I love to do it, so I'm doing it."

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