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Clemens deal hidden well by Yanks

Clemens deal hidden well by Yanks

NEW YORK -- For years, the Yankees have employed a one-two punch for the break following the top of the seventh inning: a canned or live rendition of "God Bless America," followed by an organ riff of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The package added a third piece on Sunday afternoon, as public-address announcer Bob Sheppard interrupted, instructing fans to direct their attention to the owner's box behind home plate and the right-field video screen for a special announcement.

There, clad in business attire, was Roger Clemens. True to his wardrobe, the Rocket meant business.

"Well, they came and got me out of Texas," Clemens told the crowd, "and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back. I'll be talking to y'all soon."

The surprise announcement of the season concluded with the words "Roger Clemens is now a Yankee!" bannering across an outfield matrix board in large yellow letters, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd of 52,553.

Johnny Damon was among the Yankees who approved of the dramatic unveiling.

"It seems like New York always does the right thing," Damon said. "When Paul O'Neill retired, when Roger came back ... or is coming back. New York fans know how to react to situations, and this is a big highlight of my career, seeing it."

"That was pretty strange," agreed Mariners infielder Willie Bloomquist. "It's neat to see fans respond that way for someone, as loud as I've heard them all weekend. It's good for the game to get him back. He's a horse. They love him here, and the game is better with him in it."

What the fans couldn't have known was that Clemens had just walked into the stadium, slipping through an entrance while the Yankees were batting in the sixth inning.

He briefly exchanged pleasantries with Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman before addressing the crowd.

"It feels like coming back home," Clemens said later. "You feel that you're welcomed. You know what it's all about here. I feel real fortunate to have played for this organization, and I'm going to do the best I can."

Roger Clemens

Cashman said that the idea of the presentation was hatched in the Yankees' offices in a recent conversation with chief operating officer Lonn Trost and team president Randy Levine.

"I kind of threw it out there and said, 'How about this?'" Cashman said. "They all liked it. We threw it to Roger and [agent] Randy Hendricks, and they loved it."

The key, however, was keeping the deal secret from the dogged New York media, which will probably go down as one of the great accomplishments in recent memory.

Cashman and Hendricks hammered out the framework of the agreement on Friday, and Cashman said he'd expressed surprise that news of the Clemens signing hadn't leaked by Day 1.

It didn't squeak out on Day 2, either, and Cashman began to think that hope of a grand, memorable Rocket re-entry might actually be alive.

"You never thought that you'd actually get to the position where that'd actually happen, because to be quite honest, there's no such thing as secrets when you're dealing with us," Cashman said.

There was one final wrench in the plans: the commercial flight carrying Clemens and Hendricks from Houston to New York landed late, touching down in the metropolitan area around 12:30 p.m. ET.

Undeterred, and unwilling to appear at Yankee Stadium clad in blue jeans and cowboy boots for the finalization a prorated $28 million contract, Clemens and Hendricks briefly checked into a Manhattan hotel to change before making the trek up to the Bronx, where Clemens took to the microphone shortly after 3 p.m. ET.

"It was a nice moment," Cashman said. "I think the fans here had a front-row seat for something like that, and they reacted rather well. We got lucky to have it all lined up."

With that, for the Rocket, it was time to get to work. The black T-shirt and Yankees cap he wore for a 35-minute press conference, as it turned out, weren't just for show.

Sure enough, with Yankee Stadium cleared and hot dog wrappers breezing about an empty field, Clemens made a slow walk out to the bullpen, preparing for his first official workout activities as a born-again Yankee.

"I feel pretty good," Clemens said. "Obviously, I'm not ready to step on the mound here at Yankee Stadium yet, but I'm going to do everything I can to get back here ASAP."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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