SUGAR LAND, Texas -- Roger Clemens' history with Gary Gaetti goes back to the Houston Astros' glory years in the middle of last decade. Today, that friendship helped create the situation the two found themselves in Saturday night in Sugar Land.
Gaetti was the Astros hitting coach from 2004-06, the same years Clemens was part of the team's pitching staff. Gaetti is now the manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, and on Saturday, Clemens became the newest member of the team.
In the Independent League, the rules are that there really are no rules. Teams can sign players whenever they want. Players can leave at any time to take jobs with affiliated Minor League teams. And if a 50-year-old former Major Leaguer wants to join the team with less than a month's worth of games remaining on the schedule, so be it.
At his introductory press conference earlier this week, Clemens, who hit the half-century mark on Aug. 4, indicated his conversations with Gaetti regarding future employment began a month ago. But the back-and-forth actually dates back to last winter, when Gaetti called Clemens to check on how Clemens' oldest son, Koby, was doing in his baseball career. Gaetti had just been named the Skeeters manager.
"I said, 'Roger, I'll offer you a contract right now if you would just come and pitch,'" Gaetti recalled.
Clemens' response, according to Gaetti: "I could probably go out and give you five innings right now."
The two stayed in touch but had no more discussions on the matter until recently, when Gaetti called Clemens to gauge his interest in throwing out a ceremonial first pitch on University of Texas Night at Constellation Field.
Gaetti again poured on the pressure.
"My offer still stands if you want to pitch," Gaetti said.
Clemens called him back and said, according to the skipper, "I think I'd like to do that. I'd like to shoot for Aug. 25 to start."
Clemens has repeatedly said he's not in any kind of physical condition to be able to pitch successfully in a big league game, but few believe he doesn't have an Astros comeback in his plans. Gaetti fully believes if anyone can jump back into the Major Leagues after being out of the game for five years, it's Clemens.
"I wouldn't put anything past him," Gaetti said. "It's probably never been done before. Really, the only issue in this whole thing to me would be his age. Yet for some guys, age really doesn't mean much. You stay in shape, you know your limitations, you adapt. It is what it is. I've run some pitchers out there that are a lot younger than him that don't know nearly as much or have near the stuff he has, even at his age."