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Rocket would like to suit up in red, white and blue
by Alan Schwarz
Next summer, he might just get that chance.
Clemens, who plans to retire as a major league player at the end of this season, wants to play for Team USA during the 2004 Olympics next August. The 41-year-old Yankees righthander, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, has discussed his wishes with his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, and asked them to look into the process by which he could try out.
"I want to play for my country and have a chance to win a gold medal," Clemens said. "(But) I've got to put it all on the back burner till I get through this year." Alan Hendricks confirmed his client's intentions: "He's done everything, but one thing Roger doesn't have is a gold medal. It would be a great punctuation to a great career."
Both Clemens and Hendricks repeatedly insisted that the pitcher wants no special treatment, that he wants to be invited to try out like any other player. But it's hard to imagine that a pitcher with his prestige and talent-he had an 11-7, 3.68 record for the Yankees and was leading the American League with 154 strikeouts-would not make the team, even after a half-season away from the majors.
Rocky Road Ahead
Clemens' retirement is allowing this opportunity. Major league players-defined as those on 25-man rosters-are not available for the Athens Games, mainly because the Olympics take place during the season, from August 13-29. As it was in 2000 when the United States beat Cuba to win the gold medal in Sydney, Team USA will be composed of mostly 40-man roster players on option to the minors or others not on 40-mans.
One high hurdle must be cleared before Clemens or any other U.S. player gets to compete in Athens: The United States must qualify for the games in the first place by finishing in the top two at the Pan American Championship in Panama, beginning this Oct. 30. (Other countries there will include Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.)
Tryouts for that team will probably begin in October, so it's almost inconceivable that Clemens, whose Yankees are serious contenders for the World Series, would participate there.
"I'll pay more attention to it probably when we get to the first part of next year," Clemens said. And while Clemens didn't cite them, there also could be potential conflicts between the United States Olympic Committee's drug-testing procedures and those endorsed by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
But if the United States does indeed qualify for the Athens Games, Clemens would like to come out of retirement to try out in July or early August. Given his maniacal training regimen, which has become less labor than lifestyle, he could very well be in close to game shape.
Clemens' desire to play for Team USA is not new. While at the University of Texas in 1983, Clemens wanted to play for the 1984 Olympic team-which featured Mark McGwire, Will Clark and Barry Larkin in Los Angeles-but decided instead to turn professional with the Red Sox.
In 1991, he was the only major leaguer, when asked by Baseball America if he would leave his team in midseason to play in an Olympics, who said that he would; several years later, he suggested that he might want to play for the 2000 Olympic team and then retire.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said in 1991 of the Olympics. "Representing my country would be very important to me."
Clemens, whose older brother Richard served in Vietnam, found his patriotism beating even stronger after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks-he watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse from atop his Manhattan apartment building.
Alan Hendricks happens to be a high school friend of Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and through that connection Myers asked Clemens if he would participate in last winter's USO tour of the Middle East. At one point the danger ran high enough for Clemens to wear a bulletproof vest.
"It was very humbling to go there and tell (troops) 'Thank you' in person," he told the New York Daily News. "It was incredible to be on that soil. I hope we catch this Bin Laden cat." Clemens began this season aiming to win his 300th game as a major leaguer-he got it June 13 against St. Louis-as one of his final goals in a career that already included a major league record six Cy Young Awards, two World Series rings, 4,000 strikeouts and a certain Hall of Fame plaque. He now sees only one milestone remaining: an Olympic gold medal.
"All the years I've wanted to do it, it's never worked out," Clemens said. Next summer, it just might.