Ducks all psyched up to face Roger Clemens
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In preparation for the Ducks' matchup against Roger Clemens, manager Kevin Baez joked that his pep talk will be: "Are you going to let a 50-year-old strike you out?"
But as Baez and the Ducks know, Clemens wasn't exactly pulled from some over-45 baseball rec league. He's a Hall of Fame candidate who won 354 games, recorded a 3.12 ERA, struck out 4,672 batters and won two World Series and a record seven Cy Young Awards.
When he takes the ball in Texas Friday night for his second start with the Sugar Land Skeeters -- in a game that will receive multiplatform coverage on ESPN networks -- he'll be looking to hand the Ducks, and Father Time, a loss.
Only a few of the Ducks have played at the big-league level, so it's an opportunity to face a legend, play on national television and be thrust into the spotlight. Even if only for one game, it will feel like the majors.
"I know the entire team is pretty excited that we are going to get the opportunity to face arguably one of the greatest pitchers of our generation, if not all of baseball history," said Ray Navarrete, who once faced Mariano Rivera in spring training.
"This is once in a lifetime. Although it's in a different atmosphere than maybe some of us had hoped, no one will ever be able to take away the fact that we had the opportunity to face Roger Clemens."
Baez says the Clemens cameo in the independent Atlantic League, which is unofficially considered equivalent to the Double-A level in affiliated ball, will provide great exposure to the league itself and the players attempting to make it to the majors. He, however, is left with the unenviable job of writing nine names on a lineup card for a game in which everyone on the roster would like an at-bat.
"Let's just say, nobody is backing down," he said with a laugh. "I'm sure everybody would love the opportunity to face Roger Clemens. They're looking forward to the challenge and all the hoopla that comes with it. That will be an issue for me, but I'll pretty much go with the lineup I feel gives us a chance to win."
One Duck already has big-league experience against Clemens, who allowed one hit and struck out two in 31/3 scoreless innings against Bridgeport in his Atlantic League debut Aug. 25. Former Met Timo Perez went 2-for-11 off him, including 0-for-4 in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series between the Yankees and Mets.
But this game could be more of a thrill to those who have spent years in the minor leagues chasing a dream.
Brandon Sing, who has reached Triple-A in his 14-year professional career, said although Clemens may not throw as hard as he once did, he's still out there to compete, as are the Ducks. Competition aside, he said standing in the batter's box staring down "The Rocket" will be a special moment.
"It's always a cool thing to face a future Hall of Famer," Sing said. "My son will be there, my dad gets to see me face Roger Clemens. So that's something special."
"Growing up, he was my favorite player," Keisler said. "It will be fun to go against him and have some memories to hold on to. He may not have the fastball he had back in the day, but I guarantee you I don't know too many 50-year-old men that can throw upper 80s or touch 90 miles per hour."
For Hicksville's Kraig Binick, a 27-year-old outfielder who has played as high as Double-A in the Orioles' organization, facing Clemens presents an opportunity to take on a pitcher he grew up rooting for as a Yankees fan.
"You're sitting there rooting for him all these years and now you want to get a hit off of him,'' Binick said. "It's crazy how you go through your whole baseball career and then get a chance like this. We won't forget this day or this opportunity."
Even if they strike out against a 50-year-old.