HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens is poised to make a comeback, but for now, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner insists that plan does not include a return visit to the big leagues.
Clemens, who turned 50 on Aug. 4, will jump back into professional baseball this Saturday when he takes the mound for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League. It's a one-time-only event unless, of course, he pitches well. If that's the case, he'll probably sign on for another game.
Is this also a precursor for a possible reunion with the Astros? No, Clemens insisted.
"We're going to have some fun," Clemens said. "I'll pitch Saturday and see how it goes."
Skeeters officials watched Clemens throw off the mound on Monday. Reportedly, Astros scouting director Mike Elias was also there to watch.
For his part, Clemens deemed himself in decent enough shape to face independent league hitters. He would take it no further than that.
"There's a big difference between throwing and workout out like I have been, and pitching in a game," Clemens said. "Mentally, I'm going to go out and feel 35 again. When I throw my first couple of pitches, I'm going to feel 50, and say, 'What the heck am I doing?'"
Wearing a blue button-down shirt, denim jeans, cowboy boots and a Skeeters hat, Clemens addressed a packed room of reporters and Sugar Land officials on Tuesday at Constellation Field, a 7,500-seat stadium that can reach 8,000 with spill-over seating.
Although the Skeeters sell out most nights, and exceeded their total attendance projections halfway through the 140-game season, the free publicity of a legendary pitcher joining the team surely can't hurt. Clemens' Saturday debut guarantees a standing-room-only crowd, plus a media blitz that has left the club unsure of how it's going to accommodate the crush of reporters expected to show up.
Clemens, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2007, appeared to be in his element during a 45-minute media session. Asked repeatedly if he believes he can pitch in the big leagues again, Clemens downplayed the notion.
"I'm nowhere near where I was five years ago," Clemens said. "I'm 50 years old. I have to be conscious of that."
Conversations with the Skeeters began about a month ago, when Clemens began receiving text messages and emails from manager Gary Gaetti. After several back-and-forth electronic conversations, Gaetti, the Astros' hitting coach during Clemens' three-year tenure in Houston from 2004-06, said, "Why don't you come here and pitch?"
Clemens, who's kept himself in shape with three-mile runs at Houston's Memorial Park, general workouts and by playing in a 50-and-over softball league, needed very little prodding to try the Skeeters experiment. Still, considering his past -- he repeatedly denied wanting to come out of retirement in 2004 to pitch for the Astros, only to stick around three years with his hometown team -- skepticism is bound to follow until the 2012 season actually does come to a close without a single Rocket appearance.
An undoubtedly polarizing figure, Clemens creates a spectacle wherever he goes. That's partly due to his pitching career, during which he was a Cy Young winner seven times over 24 years with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros. But also partly due to his testimony before Congress -- he was invited to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2008 after he publicly denied accusations made in the Mitchell Report that he had used steroids and HGH -- and subsequent acquittal in June on six counts of lying under oath and obstruction of justice.
Clemens, who signed a 10-year personal services contract with the Astros in 2004 that was to kick in when he formally retired, appears to have a future with them on a consulting basis. He attended the All-Star Game with owner Jim Crane, and the two have had several conversations about what would be the best fit.
But Clemens insisted he's never had discussions with Crane about joining the Astros in a pitching capacity.
"I enjoy working with the guys," Clemens said. "If they have questions I can help them with -- about the physical or mental part of the game -- I'm there to help. This is my hometown.
"I've been to the Major Leagues and back. I've retired and unretired. I wouldn't ever consider thinking that far ahead. I have to get through Saturday. We're going to have fun with it."
Clemens won't be a complete stranger when he walks into the Skeeters' clubhouse. Two former players from the mid-2000s Astros -- Jason Lane and Tim Redding -- currently pitch for Sugar Land.
Lane, an outfielder for two playoff teams in Houston, is looking forward to a Rocket reunion. As an outfielder-turned-pitcher, Lane is especially anxious to talk to Clemens about pitching.
"I'm excited," Lane said. "I always liked being around him. Now, guys can see how professional he is. I always appreciated him as a teammate."
It appears they'll only be teammates for one game. Or at the very most, two. Or more. With Clemens, you never really know.
"If I get through Saturday, maybe I'll do one more," Clemens said.
Home games only?
"Of course," Clemens grinned.