What impact will Clemens have on Atlantic League’s future?
Roger Clemens showed us all Saturday night what he could do after not having pitched professionally in five years.
With the 3.1 scoreless innings Clemens threw against Bridgeport at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, the next questions regarding his future are likely to take a different course.
What are his chances of getting a deal from a big league club? And if the seven-time Cy Young award winner does get picked up, who will it be with? And how would the 50-year-old fair in the majors?
We might find out the answers in the coming weeks. And the cameras will follow along to Clemens’ every step. But when he’s gone, what impact, if any, will the whole Clemens’ spectacle have on the Atlantic League going forward?
Taking a chance: For starters, it could lead to more former big leaguers taking a chance on the league. Yeah, that’s something the league is very familiar with. The York Revolution have seven players on the current roster with major league experience. And Opening Day Partners’ chairman Peter Kirk (ODP owns five of the eight teams in the league) reiterated during an interview last week that the league has been getting guys back to the big leagues throughout its 15-year history.
“From Jose Lima to Tike Redman to Jerome Williams. Lew Ford just did it (going from Long Island to the Orioles),” Kirk said. “The list goes on and on. Something like 600 players (have made it back to the majors after playing in the Atlantic League). This is what we do.”
With all that being said, Clemens is the most iconic former big leaguer to ever come to the Atlantic League. So, maybe it’ll lead to more big-name guys taking a chance on the league. Maybe aging pitchers like Clemens who just want to show big league clubs they’re healthy will take the route of the Atlantic League more often. After all, that’s what Revs’ skipper Andy Etchebarren thinks might be in the league’s future.
“Most of the (big-name) guys don’t need the money,” Etchebarren had said during an interview last week. “They’re just coming to prove they can still play. I think that’s what this league is gonna get to. Are we there yet? No. Are we gonna get there? Yeah.”
Scouts: It would be nice if Clemens opted to make a start or two for the Skeeters outside of Sugar Land. It would continue to bring more attention to the league. And it would give players another chance to be seen by big league scouts, which would especially help considering this time of the year scouts are seen less and less in Atlantic League ballparks. But Clemens is likely going to stay put in Sugar Land, at least until the Houston Astros or some other major league club signs him.
Still, maybe this will somehow rejuvenate interest from big league teams. As Kirk pointed out last week, Major League Baseball is well aware of the talent in the Atlantic League.
However, the league has seen a drop-off of players being picked up by big league clubs every year since an all-time 43 players were signed during the 2009 season. Thirty-one players have been picked up so far this year, three shy of the 34 signed last year.
Then again, should Clemens continue to dominate Atlantic League hitters like he did Saturday night, he might have the opposite effect and scare away scouts, since there’s not going to be much interest in a position player if he can’t get a hit off a 50-year-old who hasn’t pitched in five years.
Expansion: To league officials and team owners, perhaps the best impact Clemens will have on the league will be aiding in its goals of expansion. There is interest in the Boston (Mass.) area of bringing an Atlantic League club to town. And Kirk said he’s continued discussions with surrounding Sugar Land communities about adding a team. He also confirmed that a group in Fredericksburg (Va.) have been gathering info on the Atlantic League in hopes to see if an independent club in their town is feasible.
Surely the success of the expansion Skeeters in their first year will aid the league in swaying other towns to hop on board. Sugar Land is leading the league in attendance with an average of 6,682 fans per game in its first 52 home games. According to an ESPN.com story by reporter Jayme Lynn, fifty of those have been sellouts.
Now the league will be able to prop itself up even higher given the attention generated by Clemens over the past week.
“We’re looking to add a few more cities in the Texas area,” Kirk said. “When they read all about this and see this on television, it certainly helps our ability to work with these communities.”
Clemens might depart from the Atlantic League in the coming days or weeks. But the publicity generated during his time with the Skeeters could help the league in for years to come.