Check out our slideshow of Roger Clemens, who returned to the mound five years after his retirement.
If you build it, they will come. And if you start a 50-year-old, multiple Cy Young award-winning World Series champion, who has been in the headlines fighting doping and perjury allegations, they will pay more money to come, buy more merchandise and cheer more loudly. Oh, and ESPN will be there, too.
On a gorgeous, breezy August evening, Constellation Field in Sugar Land was abuzz on Saturday night as a sellout crowd of 7,724 (!) fans and about 100 media members crowded in to see Roger Clemens pitch his first professional game since leaving the New York Yankees five years ago. The lines at the gates began to form hours prior to the game's 7:05 p.m. start time, and many fans dug deep into their closets to don Astros and Yankees #22 jerseys. Clemens himself wore #21 on his Skeeters uniform, and looked surprisingly youthful as he took the field during warm-ups.
After throwing a few balls to Skeeters catcher Octavio Martinez, Clemens gathered his teammates into the bullpen for a pep talk. This, as he mentioned in the post-game press conference, is one of the reasons he agreed to return to baseball: motivating and inspiring young players to continue the pursuit of their dream to play professionally in the Major leagues.
All eyes were on Roger as he took the mound for the first pitch. ESPN Classic broadcast the game live, attracting many curious viewers from around the nation, either waiting for a classic outing from The Rocket or a train wreck. If Clemens pitched well, then talk of a return to Major League Baseball, and a reset of his Hall of Fame clock, would certainly be discussed. If he bombed, it would be the worst spectacle to hit minor league baseball since Michael Jordan played for the Birmingham Barons.
According to the speed clock in the outfield, his first pitch registered at an amazing 119 miles per hour! Of course, the defective device was turned off shortly thereafter. His pitches were most likely in the 85-87 mile per hour range. He threw a variety of pitches, from the split-finger fastball to a slurve breaking ball.
Talk in the stands was supportive and excited. Fans held up signs and shouted enthusiastically as Roger pitched a total of 3 1/3 innings, giving up only one hit in the process.
The most touching moment occurred when Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti approached the mound in the fourth, pulling Clemens out after only 37 pitches. He walked slowly to the dugout, thanked his catcher and the opposing team bench, and then tipped his cap to the fans in the stands. It was a media circus, but not a train wreck. He did well, striking out two and allowing only one hit, no walks.
"A lot of ice, that's what's next!" answered Clemens when asked what his plan was after the game. "Nothing was normal about this. I had to be careful, see where I was, make sure I didn't embarrass myself or the team. Just go out, have fun, see what happens. I feel very fortunate and very blessed that I was able to go out and throw well." He denied that his success on Saturday means that he will return to the majors. "That takes a great deal of work, and I'm not thinking about that at this point," he said.
He doesn't rule out another outing with the Skeeters, and said he will talk to manager Gary Gaetti in the next few days to discuss any future starts.
He thanked his agent Randy Hendricks and his attorney Rusty Hardin for their help with the ordeal he dealt with in the last few years, saying that he's glad that episode is behind him so he can refocus his energy on his family.
"If one person was smiling and happy tonight, then we got out what we wanted to get out of it," he said.
Roger certainly met those expectations, and now we wait to see if this is the end of his pitching days, or if there is enough fuel for another run. He may not be a Major League-caliber starting pitcher anymore, but he could probably play the role of reliever for several teams, especially the one whose home is 30 minutes north of Sugar Land.