With a sellout crowd, including country music superstar Toby Keith, and a national television audience soaking in every pitch, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens fulfilled a dream Friday night by pitching to his oldest son, Koby, in a professional game.
Roger Clemens, making his second start in 13 days for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two singles and no walks while throwing 54 pitches against the Long Island Ducks. In two outings for the Skeeters, who play in suburban Houston, he's thrown eight scoreless innings.
"All in all, it was a great night," Roger said. "It was a really special night for me. I couldn't have drawn it up any better."
Though there's been speculation Clemens' appearances in Sugar Land are a precursor to a comeback to the Major Leagues -- and Astros owner Jim Crane has said he'd be open to a return -- Clemens pretty much put the brakes on getting on the mound this year. The Astros had a scout, Josh Miller, watching him pitch anyway.
"At this point, I don't see that happening, because I just know my recovery time right now," the 50-year-old said. "There's no reason why I couldn't do it next year."
This night was about a father and a son living out a dream, and when Roger recorded his final out of the game, he and Koby shared a hug on the mound. Roger walked off the field to a standing ovation from the record crowd of 8,597 at Constellation Field.
"Not many words that describe the opportunity and special moment this really was," said Koby, who went 1-for-4 after driving his dad to the ballpark. "I don't even know in the history has there ever been a chance for a father-son battery. For me, it's most the unreal thing I could have done."
In addition to Keith's presence in the dugout, Houston rapper Paul Wall was in attendance to throw out the first pitch. Clemens invited back a pair of his former batterymates, Darrin Fletcher and Charlie O'Brien. Keith and Clemens led the crowd in a rendition of Keith's song, "Red Solo Cup" in the fifth inning.
"Everything about this night was special," Koby said.
The Clemens family filled a suite, with his wife, Debbie, serving as the family's head cheerleader. Koby, who was drafted by the Astros in 2005, was released by the Blue Jays organization earlier this year and signed with the Skeeters so he could catch his father.
"It's been exciting," Debbie Clemens said. "I was so excited to see Koby and Roger. [They] were looking forward to doing this together tonight. They've thrown together and pitched together all those years, and it's crazy that [Koby] is old enough and they're both doing this."
Janet Johnson, one of Roger Clemens' sisters, said the only thing that would have made the night even better is if their mother, Bess, would have been alive to see it. Bess Clemens died in 2005, when Roger was helping the Astros reach the World Series.
"I think it's marvelous, and I wish my mom could have been here," Johnson said. "She always wanted to see that, and I think she's here in spirit. I told Roger the last time he pitched here, 'Momma's with you on the mound.' She was his biggest fan, and I just wish she was here to see this. He was very awesome."
Clemens has a 10-year personal services contract with the Astros and said Crane has asked him to come to Spring Training next year and work with the Astros' young pitchers.
"Jim's been great to me and my family already in the short period time he's owned the ballclub in Houston," Roger said. "I'm under contract doing some personal services things, and I've really enjoyed doing it. He's kind of mentioned he wants me around in Spring Training, and I'll be there in a heartbeat to help anybody I can."
Tal Smith, the longtime baseball executive who is currently serving as a consultant for the Skeeters, was impressed at how well Clemens pitched.
"I thought it was another fine performance," he said. "He was absolutely amazing. He can pitch, there's no doubt about that. He knows how to pitch. He's never going to forget that. His stuff is good enough. He got stretched out a little bit more from 3 1/3 to 4 2/3, and he was very good."
Good enough to pitch in the Major Leagues?
"His command, his stuff and certainly his knowledge of pitching and his acumen are good enough to pitch at any level," he said. "That's not saying he's going in the regular rotation. That's unrealistic as this stage of his comeback."