Sam Donnellon | Professor Rocket teaches & tosses

Posted: May 24, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. - For those disgusted by the special treatment arranged by Roger Clemens in the twilight of his career, there was plenty of fodder.

He arrived here for his second minor league start in a luxury bus, the first of two built for flight-fearful broadcaster John Madden. And for most of the late afternoon, as fans streamed past it and into Waterfront Park, that is where he stayed.

"He's a very genuine guy and it's been a pleasure so far just to hang out with him," Trenton catcher P.J. Pilittere was saying after the Thunder, sans Clemens, took batting practice.

Hang out?

Like in the bus?

"Oh, no," said Pilittere. "We

haven't seen that."

Pilittere was talking about hanging out earlier in the afternoon, when Clemens provided fodder for those, like me, who

believe the special arrangements negotiated in his last two contracts are motivated by professionalism, and not petulance. If you came to the park real, real early, and had found your way in, you would have seen Clemens standing on the mound under the hot sun, sharing his thoughts on conditioning, mechanics, pitching philosophy and the quest to reach the major leagues.

Few cameras. No controversy.

Just baseball, from one of its lasting masters.

"It's definitely something he didn't have to do," his newest catcher said.

Clemens did the same thing all of last week at the Yankees' player development center in Tampa, spending at least an hour a day tutoring some of New York's most promising arms, including can't-miss righthander Phil Hughes, who was rehabbing a hamstring injury.

At one point, using a clubhouse mirror to illustrate a point, Clemens went to the phone and dialed up some help.

And once Nolan Ryan answered, he put him on speakerphone.

Listen up kiddies: This is a combined 10,318 career strikeouts talking to you here.

"I enjoy it far more than what I'm doing," he said after last night's 4-3, 10-inning Thunder victory over Portland. "The last 4 or 5 years in my career, my job goes far greater than pitching a baseball."

Borrowing Pilittere's regular No. 22 for the night, Clemens emerged from Trenton's dugout for the business portion of his night shortly after 6:30. Trailed by a mass of cameras, eyed curiously by the record crowd of 9,134 which included both Yankees vice president Gene Michaels and Boston general manager Theo Epstein, Clemens warmed up in the rightfield bullpen, participated in a kid-friendly pregame event, and went to work.

His first inning, in which he walked three batters, all on 3-2 counts, was miraculously scoreless. His second inning was, too, when he surrendered a misplayed, two-out triple.

Over five innings he surrendered one run on four hits - all of them for extra bases. But he also struck out five, and threw just 37 pitches from the third through fifth innings - after a 30-pitch first.

And when he retired designated hitter Jay Johnson for the third out in the fifth - his 85th pitch - he was hugged by Pilittere and given a standing ovation.

"I think they wanted to shut me down after that," he said.

But the terms, often to the

chagrin of traditionalists, are clearly his.

"I felt fine, I needed to get reps," he said, and so he returned for the sixth.

So, too, did his early struggle with his control, which Clemens blamed equal parts to pitching with a minor league baseball and to his activity that day. He entertained some people in his big bus. He gave his clinic in the hot sun.

"There's not a lot of normalcy right now for me," he said.

After two sharp singles and a sacrifice, Clemens hit Portland's No. 8 hitter, John Otness, and walked Iggy Suarez to force in the tying run with his 102nd-and-last pitch of the night.

And yes, it was on a 3-2 count.

Like so much of this latest return, the outing could be seen through starkly different prisms. Clemens almost doubled his pitch count from his last outing, from 58 to 102, and afterward sounded like a man ready to help the struggling Yankees. Those extra-base hits, the struggle at times with sharpness and location, still left some doubt whether his next start, either Monday or Tuesday, will be in either Toronto or Moosic, Pa. A decision is expected by tomorrow.

Based on the prorated nature of his $28 million contract, it's a $1.5 million question.

Still trailing Boston by 9 1/2 games despite winning two of three this week, the Yankees will gladly add it to their astronomical cost of doing business should the Rocket tell them he's ready. A bullpen session is scheduled at Yankee Stadium tomorrow.

And if not? Well, the Madden bus will be pulling into Moosic early next week. Another 2 p.m. clinic maybe, maybe another quick call to consult another Hall of Famer.

Another set of fresh faces for this future Hall of Famer, who leaves as many varying impressions as he has pitches.

Selfish to some.

Selfless to others.

A few months short of 45 and still gunning, an anomaly for sure.

"I tried to tell myself, you're not catching Roger Clemens," Pilittere said. "You're just catching another guy. But it didn't work.

"He's obviously not just

another guy." *

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