SI Flashback: Rocket science (cont.)
Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 11:53AM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 1:50PM
Clemens has introduced Pettitte, a fellow Texan, to his famously grueling conditioning program. (Lefthander Pettitte, who relied on 89-mph sinkers and cutters, now can fire 94-mph four-seam fastballs past hitters.) Clemens also let rookie lefties Randy Keisler and Ted Lilly join him during a workout in Baltimore in July. Lilly grew dizzy and nearly passed out, and Keisler vomited. "Or maybe it was the other way around," Clemens says, laughing.
Throughout almost 18 major league seasons (the first 13 with the Red Sox and the next two with the Toronto Blue Jays), Clemens has been a fitness fanatic. He so refined his training sessions with Blue Jays strength coach Brian McNamee that Toronto catcher Darrin Fletcher nicknamed them "Navy SEAL workouts." Clemens won his fourth and record fifth Cy Young Awards with the Blue Jays and then was traded to New York following the 1998 season for lefthander David Wells, lefty setup man Graeme Lloyd and second baseman Homer Bush. After Clemens slipped to 14-10 with the Yankees in 1999, New York hired McNamee as its assistant strength coach. From July 2, 2000 (when Clemens returned to action after straining his right groin muscle), through Sunday, he'd gone 27-3 over 46 starts.
Between outings Clemens religiously adheres to McNamee's tightly choreographed program of distance running, agility drills, weight training, 600 daily abdominal crunches and assorted other tortures. "One time he wanted me to ride a stationary bike, and I told him I never thought it gave you much of a workout," Clemens says. "He told me, 'Give me 17 minutes.' After 17 minutes I thought my legs would explode."
Clemens takes great pride in having stopped his baseball biological clock. He will tell you that he still runs three miles in 19 to 20 1/2 minutes, that he still weighs 232 pounds, that he still wears slacks with a 36-inch waist (though they must be tailored to allow for his massive thighs) and that he can still reach for a mid-90s fastball at will--the same specs he had at least 10 years ago. "He's a freak of nature, the kind of pitcher who comes along once in a generation, maybe every 25 to 30 years," says Devil Rays pitching coach Bill Fischer, Clemens's pitching coach from 1985 to '91 in Boston. "He's like Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan. At 39 the s.o.b. is as good as when I had him. To go 18-1, I don't care if you're pitching for God's All-America team, that's mighty hard to do. He can pitch as long as he wants."
There's another benefit to the maniacal training besides staying fit. Clemens says all that sweat equity gives him a high comfort level when he takes the mound. How prepared is he? Through Sunday he had not permitted a first-inning earned run in 21 of his 28 starts. "I know I've done everything I could to be ready for that fifth day," he says. "Sometimes you hear a guy when he retires talk about regrets. You won't hear that from me. I know I haven't left anything in the bag. I enjoy the work. I enjoy being the guy people count on to carry the mail. I admit there are times when my body might feel sluggish, but then I'll go out to the mound and hear a kid yell my nickname, and that will pump me up."
Clemens is keenly aware of baseball history and his place in it. (Referring to Pettitte, for instance, he says, "I told him he can chase down Whitey Ford's Yankees records, if he wants.") He reads books on the sport's greats, such as one on Walter Johnson given to him by a descendant of the Big Train, and taps into the Internet to brush up on legends he's passing in the record book. Rube Marquard? "I'll have to look him up," Clemens says. For the record, Marquard was 25 when he started an unequaled 19-1 for the 1912 Giants. He retired at 38.
How long can Clemens last? He so tightly knits his family and career that he answers the question with we, as in, "We thought for a long time we were going to call it quits in 2000." Instead, he signed an extension last August that in-cludes an option year in 2003. He likes the fact that Koby and second son Kory, 13, are old enough now to understand the dedication it takes to be a professional athlete, and that Kacy, 7, and Kody, 5, have fun running around the clubhouse. "We signed a contract with the Yankees, so we intend to honor that," he says, "but I can't predict anything. I don't know how my body will feel next year or the year after that."
Says Debbie, "He's at a very comfortable point in his life. I know getting 300 wins is important to him. But after 300, what else is there?"
There are always more names to learn about in the record book. There are more abdominal crunches to do, more sub-seven-minute miles to run, more days to keep a 36-inch waist and a 96-mph fastball in his armament against age. There are, too, more flights home for Woody Booher's son to make it all work. That's Rocket science, the kind even a teenager understands.
One day last year Roger turned to Koby and said, "Son, the day I win my 300th game, I'm going to leave my glove on the mound and come on home."
Koby laughed. "Who are you kidding?" he said. "The day you win your 300th, you'll be thinking about 305."
Issue date: Sept 10, 2001
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