What better way to launch the Baseball America Business Blog than with The Rocket and the impact of his impending tour of Yankees minor league affiliates?
The financial implications of Clemens’ return go beyond the prorated one-year, $28 million deal the 44-year-old signed last week–which some estimate will pay him roughly $1 million per start. Folks at the Yankees affiliates are holding their breath that Clemens’ road back to the majors will go through their ballparks–a guaranteed gate-buster with no promotions necessary.
“We’ll just sell a billion tickets,” Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre general manager Jeremy Ruby said. “We’re crossing our fingers and hoping it happens.”
Yankees’ brass have yet to set a timetable for Clemens’ tour–both Ruby and Double-A Trenton GM Brad Taylor have heard nothing on a potential minor league schedule for the seven-time Cy Young winner.
Yankees scouting director Mark Newman said that ideally Clemens will make three starts and upgrade the level of competition each time, but admitted, “when you’re dealing with Clemens, you’re not sure what you need.”
Newman confirmed earlier reports that the team is looking at a June 1-3 series at Boston for Clemens’ major league debut, but we don’t put timetables on it because you have to go by how he feels.”
Clemens will be in Tampa on Monday to through a bullpen session and is likely to make his first minor league start with the organization’s Florida State League affiliate.
The lack of communication hasn’t kept the affiliates from dreaming, and for good reason. Last season Trenton drew over 41,000 fans during Derek Jeter’s five rehab games’"reaching Mercy County Waterfront Park’s 6,400 capacity each night.
Taylor estimates a Clemens appearance would draw upwards of 8,000 fans, as the team would sell standing room only and picnic area tickets.
“Obviously it would be a huge impact,” Taylor said. “Fortunately we’ve had good experience in dealing with this stuff. Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano have all been through.”
Hosting a marquee rehab assignment also brings added responsibility for the affiliate. Taylor said if Clemens comes through Trenton that they would likely contact Major League Baseball to assist with extra security and add extra gameday staff (ushers, parking attendants, etc).
Tampa averages roughly 1,000 fans during the Florida State League season but is likely to fill 10,386-seat Legends Field for Clemens’ appearance. As the Yankees’ spring training home, Tampa is used to large crowds and will be able to call upon a reserve of retirees and year-round residents for additional gameday staff.
“We have already gotten calls for tickets for next week,” Tampa general manager Vance Smith said. “We’re a little bit different. Most of our sales are walk-up sales. It’s very rare to have huge advance sales, but we’re anticipating advance sales with Clemens pitching for us.”
And then there is always the media to deal with.
“When Jeter came we had 75 requests for credentials the first day (after the announcement). Our press box doesn’t sit 75 people,” Taylor said, adding that they would set up auxiliary seating for the expected media crunch. “We’re equipped to handle (Clemens’ return) and we’re excited at the prospect of it.”
Major leaguers who have come through Trenton have typically been gracious with their time and have understood the impact of their appearance on the minor league club, Taylor said.
“The ones that have come through here have been top-shelf professionals, not just from the aspect of coming in and doing their business, but they understand our need to take care of our fans. They have all been real gracious about signing autographs before and after games. They don’t just duck in and duck out. We’ve never had any issue with Yankees guys.”
For now, Scranton and Trenton are left playing the waiting game.
“It’s his show. His world,” Ruby said. “If he wants to pitch in Scranton, we’d be pretty excited.”
(As an aside, a Clemens tour through Trenton would likely time nicely with a homestand against Boston’s Portland affiliate. It would also coincide with the team’s nose-rubbing promotion to honor reigning NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez, the former Sox farmhand who played in Trenton before being traded to the Pirates. Bobblehead Night is May 23.)