tampabay.com

Rocket offers memories

A youngster and a minor-leaguer get the best of Clemens' outing.

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published May 19, 2007


TAMPA - For 4-year-old Nicholas Ketterer and Fort Myers leftfielder Erik Lis, the personal memories Friday night at Legends Field will endure.

For Roger Clemens, the memory will probably fade quickly, even if it was a critical initial step toward his goal of making a successful return to the big-league Yankees by month's end.

Ketterer will recall fondly his walk to the mound with the future Hall of Famer during a pregame ceremony pairing each of the Land O'Lakes Mets Little Leaguers with a member of the Class A Yankees. And Lis earned a lifetime's worth of bragging rights when he homered in the first off the Yankee legend in Clemens' first minor-league assignment since signing an eye-popping one-year, $28-million-plus prorated contract this month.

Lis' father flew in from Chicago when he learned his son would be facing Clemens, and he was able to retrieve the ball for a treasured keepsake.

"As soon as I made contact, it was complete shock, " Lis, 23, said.

But this night was ultimately about Clemens. Before he can resume dominating in the big leagues, the 44-year-old had to tiptoe back with a start in what could be the most closely examined 58 pitches ever thrown in the minors.

George Steinbrenner, 76, owner of the Yankees, and a Tampa Yankees' record crowd of 10, 257 (Thursday's game drew 1, 108) were treated to a performance that featured mostly good control and decent velocity. Clemens pitched four innings, striking out two, walking none, allowing three hits and one earned run.

"I'm trying to get my body in a state where I can build on something, " Clemens said. "My lower body (strength) is my biggest concern. Again, I'm in the right-(hand) lane doing all this stuff. I still expect to perform. I'm on the fast track."

Next stop: Double-A Trenton, where he is expected to start Wednesday.