Clemens imparts wisdom on Astros hurlers
Seven-time Cy Young Award winner makes first appearance at spring camp
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nothing like an early morning shot of The Rocket to get your day going.
Just ask Astros pitcher Brett Oberholtzer, who joined his fellow pitchers and the team's catchers in getting to hear from seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens when he made his first appearance at Astros camp on Wednesday.
"The energy filled the clubhouse, and it woke us and got us going if the coffee didn't," Oberholtzer said. "It was a great morning."
The day was only beginning for Clemens, who's in his second year as special assistant to the general manager. Clemens arrived at Osceola County Stadium on Wednesday for a two-day stay in which he addressed the team and talked individually with pitchers after they threw in the bullpen.
"I love it because when I was young, I was fortunate to have some veteran players around that I wasn't afraid to ask pointed questions," Clemens said. "I paid attention to detail and enjoyed watching. If I can fire them up and get them all excited and still give them a little reality ..."
Clemens, who plans another stint at camp next month at some point and plans to throw a round of batting practice, said the team's young pitchers need to step up this year, a point he made when he addressed the team.
"It was pretty straightforward," he said. "We talked about the expectations that there's more than a handful of guys that have an opportunity, and they need to take a big step forward. Spring Training, everybody's all giddy right now, and then you start the season and everybody gets punched in the face, and it's not a lot of fun. I think they're taking the kid gloves off them a little bit and asking a lot of them to step up."
Clemens, 51, took some time to work with young pitchers like Jarred Cosart and Josh Fields, and veterans like Jerome Williams and Lucas Harrell, who spent an extensive amount of time on the mound with Clemens.
"We were just talking about some of the things he thought I was doing good and some of the stuff I didn't do well last year," Harrell said. "It was good because it was reassurance for me that some of the things I've been working on were some of the things he was talking about. … He's been around the game so long, he's probably forgotten more than I know about baseball."
Coincidentally, Clemens' first start with the Astros in 2004 came at Minute Maid Park against the Giants, who had Williams on the mound. The two reminisced about that game Wednesday before they started to talk more in-depth about pitching.
"All I can remember is he struck out Barry [Bonds] with a fastball in, and now I have to come to the plate and the first thing that came to my mind is, 'Oh boy, I might get hit,'" Williams said. "He actually had his first hit that year against me, hitting a line drive over my head.
"I said, 'Man, you didn't pick up a bat for years. How did you do that?' It was fun reminiscing about those times, but when I was on the mound [Wednesday] after I was throwing, I'm going to take all the information from him. He's been around a long time, and we're grateful he's here helping us, and hopefully we can learn from him."
Fields said Clemens gave him a few pointers on his curveball and changeup and how to make it appear more like the fastball.
"He said just cut it loose," Fields said. "He said, 'Don't be scared to come in there on guys and stay through it and pound it in there.' It was good stuff. He was really an aggressive pitcher, and I loved the way he pitched. I watched him pitch growing up, and he was the one guy growing up that I did say, 'If I could have that presence,' and have a certain persona on the mound, he would definitely be one of the guys to choose to be like. It was great to have a chance to just listen to him."
Clemens revels in the chance to help young pitchers, and the Astros certainly have no shortage of those guys. His impact with the Astros goes beyond Spring Training. Last year, he was sent on special assignments to watch some Minor League players and potential Draft picks, and the Astros flew him to Los Angeles last month to try to lure Masahiro Tanaka.
But the chance to work one-on-one with the pitchers in the spring is what Clemens finds the most enjoyable.
"That was something that was said today also -- obviously, it's not working for some of you, so you need to reevaluate what you're doing," he said. "If you need to do some extra work, conditioning, whatever, it might be to make you mentally tougher than the next guy. With all the conditioning I did over my career, that really helped me feel like I had an edge over the next guy."