SI Flashback: It's all about the power (cont.)
Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM
The Upper East Side of Manhattan on a Thursday morning is a good place to begin to understand what's inside a man Hollywood would call a stock Texan. Raw, rainy and bleak, its blacktop shimmering wet under a low ceiling of gunmetal gray clouds, this is the New York of antique-silver gelatin prints. The weather is perfect for cabbies, awful for nannies pushing plastic-hooded strollers and of no consequence whatever to aging aces with the stuff young pitchers dream about.
Clemens has gotten his 299th win by beating the Red Sox 4-2 in Boston the previous night. The last of his 100 pitches was a dive-bombing 89-mph splitter to strike out Doug Mirabelli with the tie-breaking run at third base in the sixth inning. That was four pitches after Clemens took a line drive off the back of his pitching hand that ripped the skin off a knuckle, turned his middle finger numb and made the hand swell. Not once did Clemens rub or examine the back of the hand, which already sported a month-old burn mark from an iron. ("What can I say? I'm domesticated," he says.)
Upon striking out Mirabelli, Clemens pumped his fist, let loose a shout, marched into the dugout and yelled, "They're going to have to hit me in the head to get me out!"
Only 13 hours later he is out in the cold rain on an artificial-turf field working on No. 300 with his trainer, Brian McNamee, and his buddy and training partner, Ken Jowdy. Sherpas are slackers compared with Clemens between starts, when he grinds through what he calls his Navy SEALs workouts. ("The easiest day I have," he says, "is the day I pitch.") They begin with this "recovery day," he says, when he "flushes" from his body any poststart soreness, typically in his pitching shoulder, lower back, hamstrings and calves.
Over the next hour, with his pitching hand still swollen and bandaged, Clemens zips through a se-ries of exercises that includes 130 abdominal crunches, runs totaling 1 1/2 miles at a 6:40 pace, several sets of jumps with a four-pound jump rope, several football-style agility drills, ball-pickup drills and basketball-style line drills.
From the field Clemens briskly walks four blocks to a gym where he spends another hour doing rack-rattling lower-body weight training, such as squats and leg curls, and more cardio work on some combination of the treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical trainer. There is a reason why almost none of the moms or lobster-shift gym members gawk at the only six-time Cy Young Award winner in their midst: He is here almost every day. "I'm gonna break this thing!" Clemens says, straining atop the stationary bike. He's already broken one bike, and there is a glint in his eye as this one begins to emit the mechanical warning gasps of surrender. "Hear it? You hear it?" he says. "I'm gonna break it!"
The bike lives another day, which may not be true for Jowdy's confidence on the golf course. Working out is a social activity for Clemens. He craves partners, most of whom can't keep up with him or his needling, so he's devised a sort of rotation to keep him company. Fellow Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte is one partner.
Former teammate Ted Lilly enlisted once but lost his lunch about halfway through the cardio portion. "I ate two sandwiches before I went out with Roger," said Lilly, now with the Oakland A's. "One stayed down. One didn't."
Today Clemens is calling Jowdy "Van de Velde," in honor of their golf match three days earlier. On the par-5 18th hole Jowdy was in the fairway in two, needing only a bogey to win. He took an 8.
"Hey, Van de Velde, you know how people get a brain freeze from a Slurpee?" says Clemens, who plays to a six handicap. "You looked like you had a head freeze in the car coming back. Wow, I thought you were goin' down. I was fixin' to hit the OnStar to get you some emergency help."
Clemens is especially excited today because, with 299 in hand, it is the first day he can concentrate on 300. His wife, Debbie, and four boys--Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody--are flying in the next day.
His mother, Bess, who has emphysema and is recovering from a recent bout of pneumonia, will follow on the weekend. Fifty or so former teammates and friends will also be arriving.
No matter what his victory total, however, Clemens never acts his age. He is the high school jock who, $100 million later, still doesn't call anybody by his given name--Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is "Jeet," catcher Jorge Posada is "Georgie," manager Joe
Torre is "Skip" and Jim Murray, one of Clemens's agents, is "Taco Neck," after his habitual head-tilt to cradle his cellphone while writing notes, which resembles the universal taco-eating position.
His pitches have nicknames too. Clemens throws, for instance, a "splittie" (splitter), a "Hook 'em, Horns" (curveball) and a "Racer X" (a fastball that rides back on the inside corner against lefties) but tries to avoid the dreaded "cement mixer" (a slider that spins too slowly). Even his truck has a nickname: Mean Machine. Befitting his outsized image, Clemens drives a Hummer H2. "The Mean Machine's great," he says from behind the wheel while mounting an offensive on Second Avenue. "People get out of your way."
Clemens drops off Jowdy at a diner and tells him to order Clemens's usual lunch while he parks the Mean Machine. Not long after Clemens sits down, he is served his Rocket fuel: a platter with a breast of chicken and a bacon cheeseburger nearly the size of a Manhattan studio apartment.
Somehow the conversation gets around to a hearing in the baseball commissioner's office over Clemens's famous ejection by umpire Terry Cooney in the 1990 American League Championship Series. Clemens remembers that all parties were carefully editing their recollections of the on-field language until commissioner Fay Vincent finally implored them not to, saying, "We're all grown men here."
"The stenographer was a little lady straight out of Little House on the Prairie," Clemens says. "She couldn't believe what she heard after that. The poor old woman's hands were shaking. I'm thinking, I hope Little House on the Prairie makes it."
His recovery-day work isn't done yet. Clemens works out again after he arrives at the ballpark at 3:30 p.m., usually strapping weights on his ankles for exercises designed to maintain strength in his groin area.
Day Two begins back on the artificial-turf field, as early as 7 a.m. The conditioning drills closely mirror those of Day One. At the gym Clemens substitutes upper-body weight work for the previous day's lower-body weight work. He moves through 12 different curls, lifts and pull-downs. "People who don't know get put off by lifting," Clemens says, "but I never lift more than 25 pounds above my head."
He follows the weight work with another 20 minutes of cardio on the treadmill and bike. Then he works out again at the stadium. He does a series of light-weight exercises for strength and flexibility in his pitching shoulder. He also throws for 12 minutes in the bullpen, using all his pitches: four-seam and two-seam fastballs, slider, curve and splitter.
On Day Three, Clemens runs through another full morning of crunches, agility drills and cardio, though his weight work is scaled back to a few exercises at the ballpark. He throws again in the bullpen, though this time he moves Borzello up to 55 feet, not the standard 60 feet, six inches. For this, too, he has a nickname: Williamsport. "I'm not looking for full extension," he says. "I just want to concentrate on staying on top of the ball, keeping my hand behind it. It helps you repeat your delivery."
When Clemens is satisfied with the muscle memory in his body, and especially his right hand, he tells pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, "That's it." It's like tuning a piano. One day last month Clemens threw only 12 pitches before stopping his Williamsport.
Day Four, the day before he pitches, is a light day. Clemens plays catch in the outfield. He might jog lightly in the outfield if his body is sluggish. He may do light weight work for his shoulders. The hard part comes that night. "I don't sleep sound," he says of the eve of his starts. "I'll take Tylenol PM or something, and it doesn't help. I don't care if it's the seventh game of the World Series or a Sunday game in May--you don't sleep sound if you care about your work, because you have a lot of things going through your mind. I can relax [on Day Three]. That's my night to rest soundly.
"It's like when you're anxious before [pitching] a game in high school. You've got to take the rubber and control the frame. You're going to be the hero or the dog. You can't afford to have a bad performance."
Game day. This is what the sweat equity of the past days has been about. Monday marked Clemens's 584th start in the majors, and it did not give him his 300th win. He has fewer than two dozen starts left. There is no place for nicknames and levity now.