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Rocket’s mission to son fails to get desired launch

Associated Press / July 1, 2010

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MIDLAND, Texas — Roger Clemens fired a pitch low and away, then watched it go flying down the right-field line.

It twisted foul — and he couldn’t have been more disappointed.

The ball was hit by his son, Koby, on his first swing in the Texas League Home Run Derby. It would be as close as the kid came to taking his old man deep.

Koby was part of the majority in that respect.

Five of the other seven hitters also took 0-fers, mainly because of a stiff wind blowing straight in from left field. The Rocket did his part to help, keeping his heater in the lukewarm range of 60 to 65 miles per hour and trying to put the ball wherever batters wanted.

“They asked for them outside,’’ Roger Clemens said. “That’s the only thing I gave them. It’s a little more difficult than it looks.’’

Matt Clark of the San Antonio Missions got to the finals by hitting just one homer. He won the event with three more. Clemens said his aim might’ve been off because he was pitching from the front of the mound.

“I think if they’d let me scoot back to 60 feet, I’d have been a little better,’’ he said. “I think the guys had fun. I didn’t throw too many cutters on ’em. It was fun for me to be out here. Of course, it’s a double bonus for me being a dad and seeing Koby out here.’’

Koby is a 23-year-old first baseman for the Corpus Christi Hooks, who made the All-Star game by being second in homers and RBIs. When it seemed likely that he would be part of this event, his dad volunteered to take part — even though he also was playing in a charity golf tournament at Pebble Beach.

Roger played his round yesterday morning, then flew in for the afternoon event.

Roger showed up on the field in a white, No. 21 South All-Star uniform, just like Koby’s. The entire North squad stood in front of the dugout watching his every move as he loosened up.

When Koby and several other Derby hitters went to greet Roger at home plate, he smiled wide at his son. Then they went through what looked like a practiced routine: fake handshake, fake fist bump, then a dismissive wave.

Koby went back into the dugout while Roger threw to his catcher. Just before the first hitter stepped in, Koby popped onto the field and seemed to try psyching himself up.

Speaking to no one in particular, he said: “Just one. That’s all I need to do — one! No shutout. Gotta get it out. Might have to go opposite field, but I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.’’

Batters were out after six nonhomer swings. It took 10 swings before there was a homer. The last 25 swings all produced outs.

Koby took almost as many pitches as he hit. Two of his hits went up the middle, forcing Roger to duck. The last swing was high and deep, and both turned to watch. The wind made sure it didn’t get out.

“I probably kept it too low,’’ Roger said.

Roger Clemens has kept a relatively low profile since his 354-win career was tarnished by his name being in the Mitchell Report as an accused user of performance-enhancing drugs. He vehemently denied the allegations during a February 2008 congressional hearing.

A federal grand jury is considering perjury charges for those statements.

“Nothing’s going on [with the case],’’ Clemens said. “I wouldn’t comment on it anyway. We’re doing what we need to do and I’m sure they’re doing what they need to do . . . No concerns.’’

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