The topic of his talk to a convention of Texas high school baseball coaches next month was going to be how to stay in shape. It took on a whole new meaning when their guest speaker, Roger Clemens, was given a starring role in the Mitchell Report.
The greatest pitcher of his generation denied again Tuesday that he ever used performance-enhancers of any kind. But Clemens did it from a safe distance again, this time in a statement, issued by his agent instead of his lawyer. Yet he found time early in the afternoon to pick up the phone and call one of those coaches to say he'd still come and talk if they'd have him.
``He said he'd abide by whatever decision we came up with,'' said Jim Long, who coaches at Brenham High and is president of the association.
But the only thing the coaches agreed on during an executive committee meeting was to postpone making a decision on the invitation.
``Right now,'' Long added, ``I think he's coming. He was set up to talk about workout routines and I don't think he'll deviate from that, either. And after all the things he's done for us in the past, I don't see us turning our backs on him.''
Just about everybody else, though, already has. Clemens acknowledged as much in his statement.
``I am disappointed that my 25 years in public life have apparently not earned me the benefit of the doubt, but I understand that Senator Mitchell's report has raised many serious questions. I plan to publicly answer all of those questions at the appropriate time in the appropriate way. I only ask that in the meantime people not rush to judgment.''
Try telling that to anybody who thinks Barry Bonds took the rap, unfairly, for an entire era of juicers. Those same people wanted a ``name'' to share the heat, preferably one with the same outsized accomplishments, and considering that race has been a factor in just about every poll measuring how Bonds is perceived, for some of them though it would be even better if that player happened to be white.
Clemens certainly fits that bill of particulars. For all the differences between the charges against both, and the way the cases against them were rolled out, you'll get no argument from me about whether they deserve to be in the same boat. Fair or not, though, Clemens still has a decent chance of getting out.
He's off to a lousy start, having already passed on a handful of opportunities to refute what appeared in Mitchell's report, beginning with a refusal to talk to investigators even before it came out. He didn't help himself, either, by hiding behind his high-priced help instead of showing his face in public and letting people hear his words instead of read them, and facing the tough questions afterward.
But Clemens is wrong about not getting the benefit of the doubt, at least in a few places. Long said the kids who play baseball for the coaches in his association read the headlines like everybody else, but few of them have rushed to judgment.
``We talked about it a little bit,'' he said. ``There was a little disappointment by some, a little surprise expressed by others and some who didn't pay any attention at all.
``I didn't have to make decisions on any of this growing up, so what amazes me is that with all the stuff society throws at them,'' he added, ``so many of them turn out as good as they do.''
Long also noted that in his corner of the world people still want to believe that a pitcher can be blessed with talent, take care of himself and throw smoke into his 40s without breaking the rules of the game. Nolan Ryan, after all, is scheduled as the keynote speaker at the Jan. 11 banquet in the middle of that same convention. And if people can't believe in him, Long asked, whom can they believe in?
``Some people go longer than others. In Texas, we saw it with their own eyes when Nolan was still playing,'' he said. ``Only a few people ever come along in a lifetime who throw hard when they're 18, and through hard work and keeping themselves in condition, can throw hard when they get to 40.
``It can be done. It's a reason to keep trying, and people need that. Nolan's a great man, he's been a great role model and I think it's been the same way with Roger. It's unfortunate the way this whole thing played out the way it has, but I was encouraged to see his comments today. That's why I'm hoping he shows up for the convention, so people here can decide this for themselves.''
That's advice worth heeding sooner rather than later. Clemens has already taken a pass on answering all the questions most of us have ``at the appropriate time in the appropriate way,'' and every day that goes by depletes whatever store of goodwill he's built up.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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