March 11 – You can’t pass by Dbacks instructor Will Clark daily without picking up a bit of baseball knowledge. If that is the case for play by play men, imagine what it must be like for gifted players of this great sport. Here’s a recent conversation with one of the game’s great clutch hitters:
Daron: Is it fair to say that you thrived under pressure throughout your career, that you even craved it?
Will: It sort of was believe it or not. It seemed like from early on in my career that every time a key situation in a game came about, I was up at the plate with the bat. I just sort of got used to it at an early age and as I got into the major leagues, it seemed like, in the San Francisco Giants era especially, I was always right in the middle of things.
Daron: What memories do you have of legendary Mississippi State Coach Ron Polk?
Will: I think that not only did he help me become a man, because when I went from high school to college I was still a young kid that hadn’t been away from home, but then also he taught me the game. Things like where you are supposed to be at double cutoffs and relays and where you were supposed to be standing at all times. That really prepared me for the pro game because I had a real good foundation in pretty much all of the stuff that goes on in the pro game. Mississippi State really prepared me well for the pro game and so did coach Ron Polk.
Daron: I will never forget pitching a midweek game at MSU as an opposing player when I was at Auburn-Montgomery. The team was very talented, but their talent didn’t match the grilling, cooking and hospitality talents of the fans that set up beyond the outfield wall. Motor homes, trucks, grills, hollowed out hoods with grills inside all are clear in my memory of the setup…and man did I eat after absorbing the loss.
Will: It’s pretty neat. The guys at Mississippi State, they’ll be ragging on you the whole game but then after they’ll invite you out to the left field lounge to get some burgers and ribs. We’ve had a few instances where during the course of a game the fog from the barbeque pits was so prevalent over the stadium that if you’d hit a fly ball, you’d lose it in the barbeque until it came down. It’s a great atmosphere for college baseball as is the SEC in general.
Daron: Many announcers that I know look up to Mike Krukow and the way he goes about his business as the analyst for the Giants. As I understand it, you felt very much the same way about Mike as a teammate.
Will: He sort of took me under his wing when I was a rookie and really helped me out with the pro game and how to deal with this and how to deal with that. Between he and Bob Brenly, that they sort of formed my pro career. Those guys were great role models in that regard and it helped me stay on the fast track.
Daron: Doesn’t it seem like for all that Chili Davis accomplished, he historically doesn’t get all of the credit he deserves?
Will: You’re right and I mean Chili was another great teammate as I had a chance to play with him and against him. He was a switch hitter and a man that could do some damage from both sides of the plate. He was also a mentor for a lot of younger guys. Guys like Chili are invaluable to baseball and at times they do get overlooked.
Daron: In covering incredibly intense players like Jeff Cirillo and Darin Ertsad, it was evident that later in their careers, they stopped to smell the roses a bit. Did the same happen to you?
Will: I definitely think that it happened. As a matter of fact the two names that you just mentioned right there parallel how I approached things. I was really intense coming up and I pretty much found out at an early age that if I kept up with the highs and lows of baseball, that it was going to drive me crazy. So I had to back the intensity down yet still stay focused. When I started doing that, everything happened at a much better pace.
Will: You’re in the middle of a World Series that you fought so hard to get to. You go through the whole long drawn out season with spring training, 162 games and playoffs. Then all of a sudden to have things come crashing down on you, you had to take a step back and remind yourself that it is just a game. This was not life and death like we were going through. Granted it put a little dent in the World Series, but in the whole picture of things for me it was a great learning and life experience.
Daron: Many current big leaguers emulated Will Clark growing up, who were your guys?
Will: I had two guys that I emulated and one was right handed and one was left handed. George Brett and Mike Schmidt both hit the ball all over the ball park for a high average with a lot of production. Those are the two guys that I sort of copied my game after and it was neat that I had a chance to play against one of them in Mike Schmidt.
Daron: What was your relationship like with Dusty Baker?
Will: We had an unbelievable relationship because he was my hitting instructor for five years before he became my manager. Because of that, Dusty and I hit it off really well when he did take over. His first year was 93’, which was my last year as a Giant and it was also Barry Bonds’ first year as a Giant. There was a lot of firsts and it was an unbelievable year, we won 103 games and Atlanta beat us out of the playoff spot by one game because there was no Wild Card back then. It was a pretty special year and a very memorable year and Dusty was a big reason that we won so many games.
Daron: How good was Barry in 1993?
Will: People ask me about some of the great players that I have played against and that I’ve played with, but by far he is the best player that I ever played with…I’ll tell you that right now. To have the MVP year that he had his first year in 1993 and to do it in Candlestick, which is a pretty hard ballpark in which to play, is amazing. He did it without batting an eye. He’s as good as they come.
Daron: Talk about going out on top, Will. How about .345 in your final 51 games, not to mention the same clip in your last postseason, both with the Cardinals in 2000.
Will: I’m glad you said that because you see a lot of guys that maybe stretch it a year or two and they might should have retired a year or two earlier. There comes a time in a baseball player’s life where you say, ‘where do I go from here?’ For me I wanted to end it on a high note and I did. I probably could have stretched another two or three more years out of it, but I know at the time that I retired that I could still hit a baseball and probably could right now.
That final sentence sums up Will in a nutshell. Grab a ball and test him.