Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Is the Rocket returning?

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He’s just watching . . . for now.

At least that is what Roger Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks, implied in an e-mail on Tuesday night. Much has been said about the future of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, but for the time being, the Rocket is still undecided.

Clemens is currently juggling the options of retirement, re-signing with the Houston Astros or testing the free-agent market. Clemens has set a mid-June deadline to let everyone know what he will be doing in 2006.

“It is 50/50 in terms of his returning this year or retiring,” Randy Hendricks said on Tuesday via e-mail. “He will make his decision on or before June 15. Right now, he is testing himself by accelerating his workout program. He has been working out and throwing all along. He will have a better idea of what he thinks he can or should do by the end of May.”

It is hard to believe that Clemens would opt to hang up his cleats, especially after what happened in the World Baseball Classic. One would have to be on their way to the loony bin to think that a competitor like the Rocket would walk away from baseball and end his career with a loss to Mexico.

Clemens allowed his only two runs of the tournament in the 2-1 loss, as he watched his offense struggle mightily in the final game of the second round.

Speaking of struggling offenses, Clemens had a 1.87 ERA last season with the Astros, but finished the season with a mediocre 13-8 record. Those down in Houston are hoping that Clemens isn’t looking to join a club with a powerhouse offense. Mainly because the three other teams that have shown interest in signing the Rocket are just that.

Never the less, Hendricks believes that all four teams have an equal opportunity of obtaining Clemens. And while he won’t be going to the highest bidder, it should also be noted that he is not going to play for free.

“The Astros dealt themselves into the hunt with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers by making a good offer on May 1,” Hendricks said. “But since Roger has said he won’t play in May, nothing has really changed. I always expected the Astros to make a good offer in May. None is a clear front runner and none has been ruled out.”

“There will not be a bidding war, contrary to media speculation,” Hendricks said. “Once Roger decides, it will go like this: if he decides to retire, I will let everyone know; if he selects a particular team, I believe I will reach an agreement with that team within 24 hours. While I have said he will not play for a discount, I have never said it will be a bidding war.”

So now what?

May 1 (the first day that Houston was eligible to resign Clemens) has come and gone. No bidding wars and no hometown discounts. It would only seem logical that Clemens isn’t retiring. In fact, he’s just waiting to see how the standings play out. The guy is 43 years old, and he can still dominate. He’s just looking for a winner.

Roger, there’s a call for you on line one.

It’s Theo Epstein.

Most fans, at first, were too stubborn to believe that Clemens would even consider finishing his career in Boston. But as of late, the WWF-like, dream scenario of the Rocket wearing No. 21 and upending the Evil Empire at Fenway Park seems ever so realistic.

It is no secret that the Red Sox brass is ready to do everything they can to put Clemens back in a Red Sox uniform. Their “big push” for the Rocket began with a personal visit to Houston, followed by sending him a video of Red Sox fans pleading for Roger to come back home. Clemens repaid them by making a visit to the Red Sox clubhouse on opening day to say hello to the players, coaches and management.

You sure as hell would not see Clemens having a joyous conversation with Dan Duquette if he were still around. And that is why this is so special. Not only are the Red Sox showing interest in Clemens, but Clemens is showing interest right back.

And why wouldn’t he?

The scene on Yawkey Way is much different from the last time he left. There is new ownership, new management and a fan-base that would give its right arm to see No. 21 take the hill at the Fens. Those are just a few reasons why it makes perfect sense for a Rocket return to Beantown.

Clemens is tied with Cy Young for franchise wins (192), and one more victory in a Sox uniform would make him arguably the greatest pitcher in Red Sox history. Did I mention that Al Nipper, the Red Sox pitching coach, is one of Roger’s best friends?

While the potential storyline of Roger Clemens finishing his career with the Red Sox and riding out of Fenway on his White Horse may seem too good to be true, talks between the two sides have gone extremely well.

“The Red Sox management and players have done everything right,” Hendricks said. “Our meetings have been outstanding. It is gratifying to me to see the outpouring of affection towards Roger from the Red Sox fans and management. At the very least, Roger should be back where he belongs in Red Sox lore. Roger was very happy when he played for the Red Sox, and loved the fans’ passion. Roger’s history with the Red Sox is the primary reason they are one of the four teams he would consider.”

While winning is an important factor in Clemens’ decision, he also pays full attention to what his family has to say. But for Red Sox Nation, that may not be a bad thing.

“Koby being with the Astros is a long term factor in Roger’s relationship with the Astros,” Hendricks said. “It will have nothing to do with the decision he makes this year. The reason is that Koby is in [Single]-A ball and is one year removed from high school. They will not play in the big leagues together this year. Also, Koby has a dislocated finger right now, but that should be healed in the next few weeks.”

“Roger listens carefully to his family,” Hendricks said. “He also listens to my brother, Alan, and me. He then makes his own decision. [Clemens’ wife] Debbie has very fond memories of Boston.”

As of right now, he’s just watching. But Red Sox management, players and fans are hoping that, come June 15, the Rocket will be launching his farewell tour right where he belongs: at Fenway Park.

-Danny Picard is a Collegian Columnist

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