May is here and you know what that means: Drink a mint julep and watch the Derby. Plant the tomatoes. Send mom a card and make sure there's plenty of charcoal for that Memorial Day cookout.

Oh, and one other thing: Start the Roger Clemens watch.

The annual and increasingly tiresome countdown has begun. Clemens' agents say he will decide by the end of the month whether to pitch this season. Look for him to stretch it out until the final hour. Last year, he made the call to return on May 31.

If Clemens comes back - and there isn't a soul in baseball who doesn't think he won't - it will be with the Astros, Yankees or Red Sox. Can you imagine the media frenzy if Clemens makes his decision a day later than he did last year? The Yankees and Red Sox open a weekend series in Fenway Park on June 1.

The Yankees, who have been beset by injuries to their pitching staff, have made it no secret they want Clemens. Badly. Neither have the Astros.

The Red Sox have been more subtle in their interest, but it is there. Playing keep-away from the Yankees might be the Red Sox' primary reason for wanting Clemens, but there are others as well. Clemens' old No. 21, which he wore for 13 seasons with the club, hasn't been assigned since he left after feuding with the team's former management group after the 1996 season. The new Red Sox wouldn't mind bringing Clemens back for a storybook reunion with the possible by-product of his going into the Hall of Fame with a Sox cap on his head. Clemens in Boston might also ensure a trip to the World Series. Imagine Clemens, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the same rotation. Clemens might actually get bounced out of the playoff rotation.

Last week, Boston pitcher Julian Tavares said the Red Sox didn't need Clemens. He wasn't being disrespectful to the 348-game winner. He was simply being complimentary and supportive of the pitching staff the American League East leaders already had.

Tavares is a wacky, temperamental sort whose antics have frustrated teams he has played for and against. But his commentary had some relevance and merit.

The relevance: Clemens has said he will only go to a contending team. Of the three he is considering, only the Red Sox went into the weekend with a winning record.

The merit: Well, there is something bothersome about this whole Clemens drama. No one had a problem with his coming out of "retirement" in 2004 and 2005 because, first, he never really retired, and, second, he pitched the entire season for the Astros, even though he was free to come and go between starts.

Clemens will turn 45 in August. Last year, he decided his legs couldn't endure a full season. Other pitchers would have retired at that point. A pitcher of Clemens' accomplishment and skill was able to table his decision to retire or return until late May. That ensured his legs would stay strong until the end of the season. It also gave him time to make sure the team he was signing with - ultimately the Astros - was a contender. There is a certain have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too element in all this.

Clemens is arguably the greatest pitcher ever, and that distinction comes with privileges. He can come and go as he pleases (at least if he signs with Houston). He can wait until a team proves itself as a contender to decide whether he wants in at about $4 million a month. But that doesn't eliminate the distasteful mercenary feel of this whole situation.

There are other irksome aspects to this matter. Every player who's ever been a teammate of Clemens says he's a terrific team player. Even his opponents say it. But how is the player whose job Clemens takes going to feel about him?

Team-building is an important element in sports. Guys sweat together in preparation for a season. They endure the ups and downs of a season's early months, like a reader staying with a slow-starting novel. Clemens seems to only want to thumb ahead to the good parts. Is that the way the game is supposed to be?

This is no swipe at the man's work ethic, which is legendary and well-documented. You don't throw up 211 innings and a 1.87 ERA over 32 starts at age 42 (as Clemens did in 2005) without spending long hours on conditioning, even if you're doing it away from the park. But if you want to be on the team, shouldn't you do that conditioning with the team from Day 1 of spring training? If you want to be on the team, shouldn't you be there from Day 1?

We'll bet you a mint julep that Roger Clemens is coming back this season. He will win his 350th game. The only question is with which team he'll do it.

Astros? Yankees? Red Sox?

It's May. The countdown is on.

On Baseball | STATS 'N' STUFF

Since being traded by the Phillies to the Tigers in Aug. 2005,

Placido Polanco

has become an indispensable player in Detroit. He hit safely in 21 of his first 26 games and entered Friday ranked first in the American League in hits (41) and multi-hit games (14). His .363 batting average was good for third in the league.

Entering Friday, Polanco was hitting .396 (89 for 225) with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2005 season. No other major-leaguer was better over that span.

On Baseball | HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Congratulations to the venerable Delaware County Baseball League, which celebrated its 100th anniversary at a sold-out banquet Thursday night at Drexelbrook.

"We're very proud of our history," former league president and historian Jim Vankoski said. "It was a great night. We had 550 people. It was a giant birthday party for our league."

According to Vankoski, 24 major-leaguers have played in the Delco League, whose players range from age 18 to 30. Hall of Famers Frank "Home Run" Baker and Chief Bender played in the league, as did Kansas City A's bonus baby Lew Krauss, Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer and Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Connie Mack was a commissioner of the league. Even Babe Ruth played against Delco League teams in his barnstorming days.

Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Robin Roberts attended Thursday night's fete. Two-time American League batting champion Mickey Vernon, a Delaware County legend, was honored at the banquet.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.