First, the former East Tennessee State pitcher received a major award from the Texas Rangers, an organization with which he’s in his 15th year. He’s been the minor league pitching coordinator for 12 years.
Not long after he accepted the award, the bottom fell out of the sports world and the coronavirus pandemic forced a quick end to spring training.
“This is the first time in 15 years that I’ve been home in April,” Clark said. “I’ve been spending some time with my wife and four kids. That’s probably the biggest positive. It’s really allowed us to do a lot of things together this time of year that we normally can’t do. From that perspective, I’ve enjoyed being home.”
Of course, being home in Johnson City means not working, something Clark isn’t used to this time of year.
“We were scheduled to play our first spring training game,” said Clark, who was in Arizona when the pandemic’s impact started being felt. “That’s when it basically turned for the worst. They kind of held us there for about five or six days and things weren’t getting better. MLB started giving us warnings and preparing everybody. We sent the players home first and then the staff. It all happened in a two-day period.”
In February, Clark received the Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year Award, one of the top honors in the Rangers organization.
“It was a surprise,” he said. “It was a very good honor. Bobby Jones was with the Texas Rangers in player development for 41 years. He was a Vietnam veteran and had a lot of accolades. It meant a lot to me because of the name that was on the plaque. He was a mentor to me for about 10 years.
“It was nice from the standpoint that it’s from your peers and the front office. I suppose it was my time. I’ve been there for 15 years. Maybe they ran out of people to give it to.”
Fifteen years sounds crazy to Clark when he says it out loud. He spent six years as Milligan’s coach and when he left that school, he wasn’t sure what he would do next.
When the opportunity with the Rangers came, he took it but wasn’t sure what it would turn out to be.
“I talked about it with my wife and we said ‘We’ll do it for a year. If they don’t like me or we don’t like it, then we’ll
see,’ ” he said. “The Texas Rangers have been very good to me.
“The good Lord has blessed me. I didn’t know what avenue he was going to take me and this door opened up.”
Lasting this long in one position in professional baseball is an anomaly and Clark is thankful for the job security he’s had.
“Staff members, just like players, come and go,” he said. “I’m the longest tenured player-development person with the Texas Rangers. Fifteen years. You don’t see that too much. For whatever reason, I really believe the good Lord has put me there for a reason.”
Major League Baseball is trying to formulate a plan to get back in action. The only problem is no matter what date officials eye and how they plan to go about it, nobody’s sure the country will be ready even if it is willing.
“There’s a lot of speculation right now,” Clark said. “My honest opinion is that we will go to Arizona in May. It’s going to take three weeks or ramping up before we can play. I put together a two-week ramp-up, a three-week ramp-up and a four-week ramp-up just to be prepared for whatever challenges may be ahead of us.”
The tough part as a pitching coach is not being able to work with the players. Pitchers’ arms, especially in spring training, are delicate and need to be brought along with care.
“We’re staying on schedule with our pitchers, but they’re having a hard time finding places to throw,” Clark said. “It’s according to where they live. We’re going to be very cautious on how we upload.
“We’ve sent home so many different types of programs, different drills to do indoors to keep arms activated. It’s a real challenge for a lot of guys. We have guys all over the country. I talked to a couple of pitchers in New Jersey and New York and they can’t leave their houses, and rightfully so.”
So until Clark gets the word that the baseball world is ready to fire back up, he’s content being a homebody.
“We live in the country and we have a big yard,” he said. “My son and I throw baseballs. We have some woods and we have a lot of activities we can do here at home.
“I’m basically in a plane or another state eight months out of the year, in a different city about every three days. It’s good to be home for a while.”