Danny Graves pitched in the Major Leagues for 11 seasons (1996-2006) with the Indians, Reds and Mets.
Now, in just his second assignment as an analyst for ESPN (he had worked some Little League games in recent weeks), Graves will call Saturday night’s Atlantic League matchup between Clemens’ Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters team and the Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish, live on ESPN3, ESPN Classic, SportsCenter and other ESPN outlets.
Graves is no stranger to attempted comebacks, as he tried on multiple occasions to continue his professional baseball career (which ultimately ended in 2009 after Spring Training with the Astros). He also pitched in this very Atlantic League in 2007 for the Long Island (N.Y.) Ducks.
Front Row caught up with Graves as he prepares for the telecast, which also will feature Longhorn Network play-by-play commentator Kevin Dunn.
As a former player in the Atlantic League, what should viewers expect in terms of quality of play?
There were a ton of former Big Leaguers when I was there in 2007. On my team alone, we had Carl Everett, Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Offerman. It was a very competitive league and I believe it still is today because there are guys that get the opportunities to sign with Major League organizations. All the stadiums in the Atlantic League are fairly new and the crowds come partly because they can see former Major Leaguers. In terms of the quality of hitters that Clemens will face, remember that anyone who has a bat in their hands is dangerous — they can accidentally get a hit.
What should fans expect from Rogers Clemens?
They will be watching somebody who knows how to pitch. He’s still in pretty good shape and if he’s throwing in the high-80s at 50 years old, that says something. In terms of his physical ability, throwing in a game setting is much different than throwing in the bullpen and he hasn’t thrown in a game setting in several years. I saw Dr. Andrews was quoted as saying that Clemens has the shoulder of a 30-year-old so I don’t think that’s as much a potential issue as his legs. How long will his 50-year-old legs hold up? I’m 39 and I can feel it if I go to the gym one day.
How will Clemens’ game preparation differ from his Major League starts?
There are so many scouting reports on players at the Major League level. You pitch against the same guys every year and you know their strengths and weaknesses. In this game, he will obviously need to rely on his stuff as opposed to complete pitching knowledge.
How should viewers gauge Clemens’ performance?
The most important thing is for him to stay healthy throughout the whole outing, no matter how many innings he pitches. I’m sure he’s doesn’t know what will come out of this so I think his main goal would be to not hurt himself. That’s why you play so many Spring Training games — to get all the kinks out and get innings in and try to stay as healthy as you can. He can view this as his first Spring Training game. There is usually a lot of soreness after your first Spring Training game because you haven’t done it in months. He hasn’t done it in years.
What do you think is Clemens’ motivation?
From what he says, he’s not in it to get back to the Major Leagues just yet. I think he’s looking to bring attention to the Sugar Land [a suburb of Houston] team because they are fairly new and he can also, just in one day, bring his experience to the other players on that team who are trying to get to the Majors. These guys can learn from him just by watching him and how he approaches the game.
Would a relief pitching role suit him better at this stage?
I think it would be a lot harder to transition to a reliever role. He never really pitched out of the bullpen his whole career. He’s used to pitching every fifth day and having his routine the four days in between. To be able to try to pitch back-to-back days or every other day at 50 years old is tough to do.
What’s the emotional journey like to go from MLB All-Star to having to give up the game at some point?
With me, I was trying to hang on in the Major Leagues to have the chance to play in a World Series. Anybody that has competed at the highest level thinks they can make it back. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I eventually saw the writing on the wall and I felt like trying was just a waste of time. With Roger, I think he just wants to see if he can pitch and help bring fans to the Sugar Land team. That’s what he’s saying for now.