Clemens' mother dies; ace takes mound

Clemens' mom dies; ace takes mound

HOUSTON -- Those who are around Roger Clemens on a semi-regular basis -- whether it's his teammates, media or front office executives -- understand what Bess Clemens meant to her son.

Clemens spoke glowingly about his mother on dozens of occasions during his two years with the Astros, always crediting her with anything he has accomplished on the baseball diamond or in life in general.

Bess Clemens, 75, lost her long battle with emphysema early Wednesday morning. She passed away at 4:30 a.m. CT in Georgetown, Texas.

Several hours later, Clemens, through his agent, Alan Hendricks, got word to the Astros that he would make his start against the Florida Marlins that night at Minute Maid Park.

This decision came as a surprise to no one inside the Astros' clubhouse.

"It doesn't surprise me that he's going to pitch," catcher Brad Ausmus said. "I think part of the reason he came to Houston to pitch was because he could be near his mother. Certainly a lot will be going through his mind, but I'm not personally surprised that he's going to pitch."

When Clemens was contemplating signing with the Astros prior to the 2004 season, he was conflicted because the longer he put off retirement, the longer he would have to wait to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Having lost his father when he was a child, Clemens emphasized the importance of having his mother present at the induction ceremony.

Because Bess Clemens was already in poor health when he first retired as a Yankee in 2003, Roger was hesitant to postpone what would undoubtedly be election to the Hall on the first ballot.

But it was Bess Clemens who encouraged her son to sign with the Astros.

"She made the trek 2 1/2 hours from Houston to Austin to watch me pitch at the University of Texas," Clemens said at his press conference after signing in '04. "And she told me she could surely do it the opposite way and drive 2 1/2 hours down here to watch me work. I love you Mom, and thanks for that."

Bess Clemens again gave her blessing when Roger was contemplating re-signing in '05, and she threw a ceremonial first pitch to her son during an April 10 pregame ceremony honoring Clemens' seventh Cy Young Award.

It's likely that the pride Bess Clemens had being Roger Clemens' mom is one reason why he felt compelled to fulfill his duties to his team Wednesday, despite his grief.

"Anytime you lose a parent, it's one of the most devastating things that can happen to you," general manager Tim Purpura said. "For him to do what he's about to do tonight, is just heroic."

Like the players, Purpura was not surprised in the least bit when he learned of Clemens' intentions to pitch Wednesday.

"He understands the meaning of the word duty," Purpura said. "His mother taught him about duty. He feels like he's got a duty to pitch for the Astros tonight. That's what he's going to do."

Andy Pettitte, Clemens' closest friend on the team, remembered losing a good friend, a father figure, on the day of one of his starts last year. Pettitte remembered embracing his time on the mound as somewhat of a break from the grief, and he assumed Clemens would also find solace for a brief time while pitching on Wednesday.

"It probably would be the best place for him, to keep his mind off it right now," Pettitte said. "I know how I was last year with it. You get out there, your mind is going to be focused on the game. There will be time to grieve after the game, but I think it will be good for him [to pitch]."

Several Astros said if they were in the same situation, they didn't know if they'd be able to play.

"I don't think I'd be able to do it," Adam Everett said. "No chance. I can only imagine what he's going through. I know he loved his mother very much, like most of us do. Maybe it's just a way for him to get his mind off the sitaution and come back to reality tomorrow."

"I know I wouldn't be here," Lance Berkman said. "That's a pretty major deal."

But Berkman also knew Clemens feels a huge responsibility to his team this time of year, seeing the Astros are in a Wild Card race, and largely because of his singular contributions.

"I can only think he's thinking, 'We're in the race, it's important for me to pitch,'" Berkman said. "'If I don't pitch, the bullpen's going to have to pick up a start,' that kind of thing. You certainly don't want him to be concerned about us while he's dealing with all of this."

Had Clemens opted not to pitch, his teammates would have supported that decision, too.

"There's no such thing as protocol," Jeff Bagwell said. "We don't know what he's thinking. [Making this start] might have been something his mom wanted, it might be something he wanted.

"There's not one guy in here that cares whether he's going to pitch. We care about how Roger feels. Not a lot of time goes by that you don't hear Roger talk about her, when he talks about his career, his childhood. Obviously, she was a very, very special person in his life."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.