Tenacity pays off for Brewer, former Sunset High star Brady Clark
PHOENIX Ñ The final Milwaukee Brewer off the field and into the clubhouse at Maryvale Park is outfielder Brady Clark, signing autographs for every last seeker.
Not because he was an autograph hound as a boy, either.
'I was too shy,' he says. 'But I know it is important to the fans, especially to the kids, whether they know who I am or not. They just like a player to sign for them. And ultimately, they are the ones who pay my salary.'
If only every pro athlete would 'get it' like Brady Clark.
And yes, the fans are beginning to know who the former Sunset High standout is.
Clark's story is a good one. Undrafted after four years at the University of San Diego. Didn't get his start in pro baseball until age 24. Moved quickly up the ranks in the minor leagues but was traded by Cincinnati and waived by the New York Mets. Signed by Milwaukee last year, gradually proving his worth through the season, finally batting third in the order after regular No. 3 hitter Geoff Jenkins broke his thumb in late August.
It appears Clark, who turns 31 on April 18, has found a home with the Brewers.
'It is a great fit for me,' Clark says. 'I love everyone in the organization from top to bottom. They see value in me. I have come a long way, but I still have a lot longer way to go.'
'I knew I could play'
Clark was a two-sport athlete at Sunset, quarterback on the football team that was ranked No. 1 before being upset by Roseburg in the 1990 quarterfinals, and shortstop on the baseball team. Clark went unchosen through three drafts from the end of his high school to college days, a pretty good indication he should look for another line of business as a career.
But Clark thought otherwise.
'I wanted the opportunity to play pro baseball,' he says. 'I knew I could play; I was just overlooked. I didn't know how far I could take it, but I always believed I could take it all the way. My first goal was to sign a contract and get a uniform on.'
Clark signed a free-agent contract with Cincinnati, only to break a bone in his hand that required surgery. The Reds released him in April, and he took off for Bend to live for the summer.
'I just wanted to get away for a while,' Clark says. 'My career was up in the air. I still believed I could play pro ball, once the hand was healed. I rehabbed and worked part time at a golf course in Redmond. Spent a lot of time in the outdoors, mountain biking and fishing.'
The following February, Cincinnati re-signed him, and he quickly proved himself as a prospect, hitting .325 at Single-A Burlington and making the Midwest League All-Star team as a rookie. Two years later, he was Most Valuable Player of the Double-A Southern League, hitting .326 with 17 home runs and 75 RBIs in 138 games.
In 2000, after a season with Triple-A Louisville in which he hit .304 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 132 games, he got a late-season call-up by the Reds. After spending parts of the next two seasons with Cincinnati, Clark was traded to the New York Mets, where he hit .417 in 12 late-season at-bats É and was released at the end of the 2002 season.
'No organization ever believed in me Ñ not even Cincinnati,' Clark says. 'To them, I was an old guy in Single-A ball. Then it was, 'Can he play Double-A?' Then it was, 'Yeah, but what about Triple-A?' I went to the Mets, and they ended up signing Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and I was the odd man out.'
Coach heaps on praise
Feeling appreciated is important to Clark. He is getting plenty of love in Milwaukee.
'I wish I had 25 Brady Clarks,' Milwaukee hitting coach Butch Wynegar says. 'That is how highly I think of him. He is the kind of guy every manager loves to have on his team. He does everything well. He is a workaholic. He wears me out. I love him.'
Clark took a .304 average into September last season but injured a hip in a spill at first base, then aggravated it crashing into the outfield wall. He kept playing, hitting .193 the last month to finish at .273.
'Questionable whether I should have,' Clark says, 'but I was playing every day, and I wanted to be out there. I wasn't going to sit out unless I absolutely had to.'
Says Wynegar: 'He couldn't rotate on his backside. If it weren't for that, he probably would have hit .300 for the season.'
Clark will begin this season as a reserve outfielder, but he will get his opportunities. Through the first 18 Cactus League games, he had more at-bats than any teammate, hitting only .227 but boasting a solid .380 on-base percentage while leading the team with eight walks.
'He knows his place on the team,' Wynegar says. 'He would like to be the everyday right fielder, and I can't blame him for that. I told him, 'Bide your time. You know your role right now.' As long as he stays away from injuries, he is going to be a big part of our club.'
The 6-2, 200-pound Clark won't settle for a reserve role, unless he has to.
'I come to the park every day with the mind-set I am a starter, until I see a lineup differently,' he says. 'Then I will change my mind-set to becoming a role player Ñ pinch-hit, play defense, whatever I can do to help.'
It is a big year for Clark Ñ who lives in Beaverton during the offseason Ñ in another way. He and his fiancee, fellow Sunset grad Sarah Beeler, will marry this fall.
By then, Clark may be celebrating the best season of his big-league career. His hope is it will come with an improved Brewer team.
'The atmosphere is different now,' Clark says. 'It is on the upswing. In the past, it was kind of, 'We are the Brewers; let's go out and lose tonight.' Now we have an expectation we are going to win, and we are going to battle you. We are going to surprise some people this year. This team will get better from here on out.'