Astros: Clemens would be a distraction

HOUSTON -- As the Houston Astros were celebrating the development of a new youth academy Friday, owner Drayton McLane was talking about the possibility of Andy Pettitte returning to the team and whether he expects Roger Clemens at spring training.

McLane clarified recent reports about the Clemens and his involvement with the Astros. Clemens, whose son Koby is in Houston's farm system, created a media frenzy last season when he threw batting practice to Houston's minor leaguers.

McLane said he hasn't spoken to Clemens in quite some time, and that the decision for him not to work with the minor leaguers this season was a mutual one reached in a meeting among the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, his agent and the owner last year at spring training.

"We sat down and talked ... and we all felt that was a distraction, and Roger certainly recognized that and he didn't come back," McLane said. "But he certainly came and watched his son play. He's welcome to come to spring training."

McLane expects Clemens, who played for Houston from 2004-06, will come and see his son play and called him a friend.

As for the status of his 10-year personal services contract that is set to take effect when Clemens retires, McLane said no decisions on that will be made until he officially retires. Clemens hasn't pitched since 2007 with the New York Yankees.

"We'll have to address it at that time," McLane said. "He hasn't told us he's ready to retire. That's got to come, and then we'll sit down."

Clemens is being investigated by a federal grand jury trying to determine whether he lied last year when he told a congressional committee under oath that he never knowingly took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

McLane also addressed the possibility that Pettitte could make a return to Houston as negotiations with the Yankees stalled. Pettitte also pitched for Houston from 2004-06.

"We're pretty well set," he said. "I don't see us entering into the negotiations."

But he didn't completely nix the possibility, adding: "But it's a long time until spring training."

Houston's Urban Youth Baseball Academy is a joint venture among Major League Baseball, the Astros and the city to bring baseball to youth in Houston's inner city.

The project, which will be in a park in north Houston, is part of an initiative by MLB and will be the third of its kind. An academy in Compton, Calif. opened in 2006 and the Houston academy as well as one in Florida are in their early stages.

MLB has been working to address the dwindling number of African-American players in the major league, and many believe academies like this can eventually ease the problem.

Frank Robinson, who became the first black manager in major league history in 1974, is troubled by the lack of blacks in the majors, but sees reason to hope it will get better.

"It's disturbing to everybody," he said Friday just feet away from the field which will be renovated thanks to this project. "It's disturbing to the commissioner and everyone else in baseball. But there's no one solution to the problem and it didn't happen overnight. So it's going to have to be a slow process of building that back up again and this is one of the ways to do it."

McLane is excited about the endeavor and beamed as he spoke about the project.

"We want to leave behind good teams, championships and good players, but we also want to leave something where we build lives and this is what we're here for," he said.

The Astros and the league joined to contribute $600,000 to the youth project, the city added $600,000 and grants from the state covered the last $600,000. The Astros and the league have a 10-year agreement to assume the operating costs of the facility which will feature baseball coaching and clinics as well as seminars in umpiring, scouting, sports journalism, field management and athletic training.

MLB is in the process of planning academies like this one in Philadelphia and New Orleans, but they don't plan to stop there.

"My dream is to have these across the country in the shadow of every major league ballpark," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations.