By Jim Caple
Page 2

Can't you can just picture Roger Clemens hanging out behind the backstop with Roy Turner, the smarmy manager in "The Bad News Bears"?

CLEMENS: That's a pretty nice fastball your son has, Roy.

Caple on Clemens
Hmm ... perhaps Jim Caple has some issues with Roger Clemens? After all, the Rocket has been provided much good material for Mr. Caple through the years:

  • July 14, 2004: Clemens and Piazza at the All-Star Game
  • Jan. 1,2004: A peek at Roger's retirement diary
  • Oct. 22, 2003: The hardest-working man in sports
  • June 16, 2003: Lifting the spirits of Bostonians
  • June 14, 2002: The Headhunter vs. The Armadillo

    And, of course, the award-winning piece, "Probing Mr. Clemens," from Oct. 25, 2000, in which we discover the mysteries of Clemens' brain.

  • TURNER: Maybe, but he's got a lot to learn. Did you see the way he almost hit that kid Englebert in the head?

    CLEMENS: Yeah, he'll need to work on that. He should have thrown it right behind his head -- that way, the kid would've backed right into the pitch. But give him time; he'll learn.

    Knock this next kid on his ass, Joey! Or no snowcone for you!

    TURNER: That's your son he's pitching to, Rocket.

    CLEMENS: Yeah, I wanna toughen him up. He's a bit of a momma's boy.

    In case you missed it, the Rocket added to his legend over the weekend. While his teammates were playing in Cincinnati, Clemens was being ejected from his son's 10-and-under baseball tournament in Colorado for arguing with the umpire. Details are a little sketchy -- Clemens' agent claims the pitcher was not ejected "to his knowledge" -- but according to the wire stories, the Rocket got a little upset when the ump called out his son, Kacy, on a close play at second. The unidentified umpire claimed he ejected Clemens after the Rocket spit a sunflower seed on his pants leg.

    Roger Clemens family
    Let's just hope none of the Clemens kids throw bats at opposing players during games.

    Back away from the Louisville Slugger, Mr. Clemens. Don't make me call for backup.

    Now, there are several ways to look at this incident while we wait for the ump to put the sunflower seed on eBay.

    First, why wasn't this game televised? We have four channels of ESPN. We have all the Fox regional channels. We have dishes and satellites and cable. And Clemens going 'DefCon 5' wasn't on any of them? And to think there are some people who still say we already have enough sports on TV. I mean, really. Clemens getting ejected from a Little League game? That's worth fifty bucks, easy, on pay-per-view. If Mike Tyson still needs to raise some cash, he shouldn't fight anyone; he should just coach one of the teams that Clemens' kids play on.

    Next, why was Clemens even watching his son play in Colorado while the Astros were playing in Cincinnati? I know his contract arrangement doesn't require him to be with the team when he's not scheduled to pitch, but I don't think the Astros anticipated him spending his days off flying around the country, either. Still, Clemens is 12-3 with a 2.77 ERA before Tuesday night's start against Atlanta, so obviously Houston is getting its money's worth from him. And if the Astros don't have Clemens hanging around the clubhouse a couple days a week ... well, they should just consider it a bonus.

    Then there is the umpire, who might have over-reacted just a touch. Ejecting a guy because a sunflower seed hit his pants leg? Good Lord. Even Barney Fife wouldn't consider that grounds for ejection. Still, the poor guy probably has seen the Mike Piazza re-runs a couple dozen times and was afraid that if he didn't act quickly, he might spend the next two weeks pulling splinters out of his nostrils.

    Forget all that, though. You know what the worst part is? The worst part of the story is this: There is a freakin' national baseball tournament for kids 10 years and younger.

    Little League
    And another thing: Whatever happened to playing with your buddies at the local park without parents and umpires?

    In addition to Clemens' team from the Houston area, there was also a team from Bakersfield, California, playing in the Colorado tournament. What? There aren't any other kids in Houston or southern California? They have to travel to Colorado to find another team to play? If that's the case, we obviously we need more NBA players to settle down there.

    I know these youth tournaments have been going on for quite awhile -- there are even tournaments for 8-year-olds -- but you tend to forget it until something like this happens and you realize that the nation has gone absolutely insane. I mean, really, what the hell are we doing when we have national tournaments for kids who are 9 and 10? Kids that young shouldn't be traveling all over the country to play baseball. It's not healthy. They should be home on their couches playing with their Gameboys or locked in their bedrooms downloading pornography.

    Little League and all the other assorted youth leagues have always had their problems, but at least the goal used to be to get as many kids as possible playing supervised ball. Now the focus is building entire leagues around the 15 or so best players, while telling the vast majority of the kids they're not good enough -- or, worse yet, to go play soccer. I don't see why there was such a fuss about Janet Jackson's negative influence on America's youth at the Super Bowl last winter -- most kids didn't see her nipple because they were too busy shoveling snow off the mound for the season opener.

    Leagues start so early in the year now that the kids spend most of the season standing around in the rain feeling miserable. Then, once the weather finally improves and it's actually pleasant enough to play baseball, the season ends so that the parents can pick traveling all-star teams and start eating up the ozone layer with a caravan of SUVs to a tournament in Ogden, Utah.

    And how do you choose a traveling all-star team from 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds, anyway? Do you just pick the ones who won't wet the bed at the Motel 6? Or the ones who are already bulking up on Flintstones-flavored bottles of androstenedione?

    Look, we're not developing a generation of All-Stars with these stupid tournaments -- it's just the opposite. We're diminishing the pool of players, and turning an entire generation away from baseball. There needs to be a minimum age for these traveling teams, and it's a simple one. A kid is too young to play in a tournament if he eats paste at the postgame spread.

    We need to let these kids simply play in the summer without worrying about whether they're going to get picked for the all-star team, or whether the motel at the tournament has Spectravision. We need to let them play without feeling the intense, suffocating pressure of adults who are so immature themselves that they'll yell at an umpire with acne when he misses a call at second base.

    After all, there's plenty of time for that when the kid turns 12.

    Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com




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