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Rocket lands in Houston after all

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Clemens may be back with the Astros by the end of June.

HOUSTON -- The memory of his mother pushed Roger Clemens to come back. The chance to play with his oldest son persuaded him to pick the Houston Astros.

"We'll see what happens," Clemens said Wednesday. "Here we go."

Clemens agreed to a $22 million contract to pitch for Houston for the rest of 2006, ending months of speculation around baseball and in his own mind whether he could -- or even wanted to -- play a 23rd season.

"I think I've placed more responsibility on my shoulders than I ever have in my entire career," Clemens said. "But I accept that challenge."

His two youngest sons wanted him to walk away. But one of Clemens' sisters swayed him by musing on what his mother, who died last September, would've preferred.

"Like my sister said, 'Mom would want you to be working. She doesn't want you to be unemployed,'" Clemens said. "'So go back to work.'"

The 43-year-old Clemens is agreeing first to a minor league deal that pays $322,000 over the five-month minor league season. He is due to make his first start next Tuesday at Lexington, Ky., the Class A affiliate where oldest son Koby plays.

If all goes well, Clemens' second start would be June 11 at Class AA Corpus Christi, Texas, followed by a start June 16 at Class AAA Round Rock, Texas.

He could be pitching in the big leagues by June 22. Clemens helped pitch the Astros into their first World Series last year; this season they're 27-27 and 7 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the National League Central.

"The ball's in my court now," Clemens said. "This was a difficult decision on my part in a number of situations. I have to now take the next step and get my body ready to come back, get effective, win games."

When he is added to the major league roster, he gets a one-year contract worth $22,000,022 -- his uniform number is 22. Because he won't be playing the full season, he gets only a prorated percentage of that, which would come to about $12.25 million if he rejoins Houston in late June.

The tentative goal is to have him start against Minnesota on June 22 -- if he's put on the big league roster on that day, he would earn $12,632,307.

"I'm not riding around in the back of a convertible, waving my hat and selling tickets," he said. "They expect me to get on the field and win ballgames and do it the way they're used to seeing me do it.

"And I accept that more so than anyone."

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