Will is a thrill to the Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Will is a thrill to the Pack

STEVE RANSON
Nevada Appeal News Service

RENO – Wolf Pack outfielder Matt Bowman of Dayton said he always considered former Major League infielder Will Clark as one of his favorite players.

“It was cool,” Bowman said before he had his photograph taken Monday night with Clark. “I’m a big Giants fans and remember going to San Francisco and watching him.”

Clark, who spent 15 years with four clubs including the San Francisco Giants, was the guest speaker at the annual Bobby Dolan dinner, a fundraiser for the University of Nevada baseball program.

Before the dinner, the man dubbed as Will “the thrill” Clark because of his exciting style of play spoke to the Nevada players and media, primarily discussing and answering questions about his Major League career that began in 1986.

The New Orleans native ended his career with a .303 batting average. He drove in 1,202 runs and smacked 284 homeruns. Clark was also a six-time all-star.

Still looking fit to play a nine-inning game, Clark discussed his life in the big leagues.

He fielded a multitude of questions. He didn’t like to face pitcher Rick Sutcliffe who changed his pitches or relief pitcher John Candaleria. His least favorite ballparks were Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Kansas City. He preferred playing in the National League.

Now, to the serious moments …

Clark said two memorable events stand out in his playing career – his first hit, a home run off Nolan Ryan and the 1989 National League Championship Series against the Cubs.

“I get up there (to bat), and his first pitch is a curveball strike,” said Clark about facing Ryan. “Then I started giggling.”

Houston catcher Alan Ashby looked up to Clark and quizzed the Giants rookie about his giddiness. Clark said he was surprised one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the National League threw a curveball rather than a fastball.

“The next pitch missed, but the next one was a heater, and I zipped it out to centerfield,” Clark said.

During the NLCS against the Cubs, Clark said the Giants had the strongest batting order and two 20-game winners. Yet, he wasn’t surprised the A’s swept their cross-bay rivals in four games.

“They were better than us,” Clark said with no hesitation.

Clark, who spent eight years with the Giants, said he enjoyed his stay in the Bay Area and liked playing at Candlestick Park.

“I liked hitting at the ‘Stick,” he said, adding that playing there made him a better person and also made the team play better. Clark said the cold, windy nights at Candlestick Park mentally forced him to focus on the ball.

Clark played for two Giants managers, Roger Craig and Dusty Baker. Each brought his own style of managing to the team.

“Roger did a lot of hitting and running … In 1987 I batted first and had five squeeze bunts,” Clark said.

Clark said he was close to Baker, who was the team’s batting coach before becoming manager in 1993.

That year also brought another change to the Giants: The signing of free-agent Barry Bonds.

“What an interesting fellow, but the best fellow I’ve played with,” Clark said as some of the players chuckled. “Barry and I got along well. He came to San Francisco, fell into our order, and we had an unbelievable season.”

Before the days wild card teams, the Giants won 103 games but finished in second place, one game behind Atlanta.

“I identify with the Giants,” he said. “They were the first team I came up with. I also had as much fun for four months in St. Louis.”

After the 1993 season, Clark played for the Texas Rangers and then the Baltimore Orioles. He was traded to the Cardinals midway through the 2000 season.

He played for an injured Mark McGwire and saw action in the NCLS. The Mets, though, won the series in five games.

This was the second time McGwire and Clark played together. They were members of the 1984 Olympic baseball team.

Clark said he was dismayed McGwire did not receive the necessary votes to be inducted this year into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Mark was never proven (of using illegal body-enhancing substances). He never failed a test,” Clark said. “Not to be honored is a shame. Also in the same boat is Pete Rose.”

The Cardinals wanted Clark to return for the 2001 season, but Clark said it was time to retire.

“Looking back, it was the right decision,” Clark explained. “I had made a decision earlier (in his career) that if I wasn’t an every day player, then it was time to hang it up.”

Clark, though, said it was time to be with his family, particularly with his now 11-year-old autistic son. For the past six years, Clark said he has worked with charities to raise money for autism either through out of pocket donations or from golf tournaments.

Clark, who is a special assistant with the Arizona Diamondbacks, commended the Wolf Pack players for their love of the sport.

“They’re following their dreams. Work hard not only on the ball field but in the classroom,” he said.

Nevada baseball coach Gary Powers said he followed Clark’s career from college to the pros.

“He was one of the finest hitters who came along … a tremendous competitor,” Power said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for the (Wolf Pack) players to be close to him and ask him a question.”

Clark also told his audience a story of teamwork. When he played for the Orioles, Clark said his teammates included Cal Ripen Jr. and Brady Anderson, but the team couldn’t win a championship.

That story caught Bowman’s attention.

“It was interesting the Orioles had a great amount of talent, but they didn’t play together,” Bowman said.