08/23/07 10:06 AM ET
Clemens passing the torch to rookies
Hughes, Chamberlain soaking in advice from veteran Rocket
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
As Mike Mussina finished dissecting a troubled start, many exited, their night complete as the clock inched toward 3 a.m. on the East Coast. But duties weren't yet over for Clemens, who grunted dozens of biceps curls into a mirror before finally permitting himself to leave the premises.
Once again, the reminder was served: It is no accident that Clemens has pitched as well as he has, for as long as he has. For the youngest Yankees, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, Clemens is a constant inspiration through perspiration.
"It was great to know you've got somebody like that coming in, and somebody who's so willing to talk, willing to learn, willing to teach," Chamberlain said. "He's 45 years young and he still wants to teach. He had great teachers when he was growing up, and you can tell that he wants to continue the legacy that was brought upon him to the younger generation."
The Yankees' early season financial pitch for Clemens was based upon a need for a quality starting pitcher at the Major League level, a service that the future Hall of Famer has consistently provided.
But just as he did with the Houston Astros, where sweaty afternoons were spent in workouts with starry eyed Minor Leaguers, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner has offered instruction and advice to Yankees prospects whenever possible.
"Obviously, they're paying him money to go out and perform, but he feels like the other part of this job is to help us out and mentor," Hughes said. "There's only so much you can do in this game that he hasn't already done. I think he likes the fact that he's passing the torch, in a sense."
Chamberlain and Hughes both had the opportunity to borrow from the Rocket's wisdom when all three spent time at the Yankees' player development complex in Tampa, Fla., earlier this summer.
During one of Clemens' rehab sessions, firing tuneup offerings toward his eventual Yankee Stadium relaunch against the Pirates, the hurler invited a group of prospects to observe and ask questions -- partially to help inform and pass on knowledge gleaned from 24 seasons of big league service, and also because Clemens may have been curious as to the thought process of the younger generation.
"We had some good times in Tampa," Clemens said. "I think that was the most important thing, and they paid attention. Every step of the way that I was working on coming back -- which was real important to me -- they hung out a little bit longer and watched. Now that I get to see them actually learning on the go, it's kind of fun to watch."
Hughes' last start, a Monday effort at Angel Stadium -- the California native's nearest big league facility as a youngster -- yielded the most promising results since he returned to the big league squad from injuries. Meanwhile, every Chamberlain appearance continues to be an event; wielding an electric fastball and a biting slider, Chamberlain struck out the side in an inning Wednesday against the Angels, including fanning Vladimir Guerrero for the final out.
"They're going to obviously play a big part in what's going to happen here," Clemens said. "The quicker they can understand to get a good workout routine and get a solid base that they can count on, the Yankees are planning on them being a big part of that new stadium across the way."
Projecting Chamberlain and Hughes as pillars of the Yankees' new facility rising between Jerome and River Avenues in the Bronx may be tricky business, but for manager Joe Torre, it's easy to look past age in favor of mature attitudes.
That, Torre said, is one of the most impressive aspects of sending a pair of 21-year-olds out on a regular basis: neither seems to be intimidated, only to belong.
"They're all going to be judged on how they handle the pot holes, and that's where pretty much the jury is still out, because we haven't seen that yet," Torre said. "But again, knowing their makeup, I think they've sort of been forewarned."
For Chamberlain, who completed a meteoric rise from Class A Tampa to the big leagues in his first full pro season, Clemens' most striking lesson has revolved around proper workout programs and conditioning.
"The biggest thing was to treat your body like a temple. What you put into it is what you're going to get out of it," Chamberlain said. "You can have your fun, but you also have to realize when it's time to flip the switch and time to get to work. You can do everything you set your mind to -- you just have to be patient and work hard."
For both Chamberlain and Hughes, early success has convincingly proven that they have been blessed with standout talent. But that is just the beginning of the lesson, for as Clemens warns, such gifts have an indefinite shelf life against similarly superb athletes.
"They wouldn't be here if they didn't have the makeup," Clemens said. "I've encouraged them to get something that they can believe in and count on, and take with them for a long time.
"They'll have to adjust, because people will adjust to them once they see them enough. That's all part of it. If you can survive on talent for four or five years, you're going to have to make adjustments from there on."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.