This time last year, Andrew Clark was picking up trash. The Yankees are hoping he’s their hidden treasure.
A 13th-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers just three years ago, the 25-year-old first baseman found himself out of baseball completely just last year. But, a career .308 hitter, the move was by choice.
“To be honest with you, I started off in High-A back in 2012 and just kind of walked away from it,” he said. “I played baseball for 20 years, and I got married in the previous off-season, so I felt like maybe it was time to do something else. Obviously, the grind over time just kind of gets to you. Being a little bit older of a guy and playing in High-A still, it was just kind of overwhelming. So I felt like it was time for me to walk away from it, so I did.”
Clark earned his degree from Louisville in Exercise Science, but found it was of little use to him when it came to finding a job in the “real world.” So he took the first job he could find near his Bowling Green home: Garbage man.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” he admits. “That was months ago, really not that long ago. I did it for probably three months before I decided I’ve got to do something else. It was just rough, but it was the only job I could get in Bowling Green starting off. It worked out good for me, because I was able to get some money. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys, but this right here makes it that more special to be a part of this.”
This right here? This is the stuff movies are made of. Maybe not this one starring Tony Danza, but something close to it. After all, this season, Clark has been “The Boss.”
He started the year in the independent Frontier League and put up video game numbers right away, batting an absurd .421 with seven home runs and 24 RBI in 24 games. Those kind of numbers will get you noticed anywhere, and the Yankees were among several teams to come calling on the 6-foot-2, 220 pounder.
“I looked at the numbers briefly, I did,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“He’s had some time off. That kind of sets you back, but now he’s got an opportunity to play. Evidently, he’s played well in the Frontier League, and we thought enough of him to sign him. He’s got a pretty nice swing, that’s pretty evident. We’re happy to have him, glad he’s on our side.”
Clark would have been on a different side had things worked out differently. The Rangers agreed to bring him back, but let him go after he failed to pass a physical. The White Sox signed him approximately a month ago, but also released him without playing a game in their system due to a bone spur in his shoulder that will require surgery.
“I was set on being in Evansville for the remainder of the season,” Clark said.
“Evansville was going to pay for my surgery at the end of the year, so I was set on staying there. It was fun, and it was convenient for me being I had family that lived in Evansville and Bowling Green is where I live now with my wife, and it was only an hour and a half away from us. It was real convenient for me, and it was just a good setup all around. Then obviously, this happened. So I’m thrilled to be here and be a part of the Yankees.”
Clark’s wife, Brittany, has been a lifelong Yankees fan, so that made the blow of leaving his days of being back at home with her easier to take. Semi-retirement, which also entailed working as an unloader at UPS and at a Nissan dealership, just wasn’t for him.
“You could ask her, after a couple weeks, I was miserable to be around,” Clark said. “I just realized about a month into it that trying to do this normal lifestyle, it just wasn’t for me. I felt like I had too much drive left in me. Being away from it made me want it that much more. I think just over time, realizing how much I missed it. I missed hitting. I gave lessons to some kids here and there, but just watching the game on TV and realizing that could be me. And I didn’t want to live my life looking back 20-30 years from now, wondering if I’d have stuck it out, what would have happened. So I really just wanted to get back into it.”
It wasn’t so much Clark’s signing by the Yankees that was curious at the time, it was his assignment. During his brief career in affiliated ball, he’d never advanced past High-A, but was assigned directly to Double-A Trenton upon agreeing to terms with New York.
No sweat. In his first five games, he’s hit .429, and he stroked his first two Double-A home runs last night in Trenton’s shutout win over Erie.
“To be honest with you, there’s not much difference in the pitching from where I was coming from in Indy ball,” he said.
“There’s a little bit better curveballs, and the miles per hour are coming in a little bit harder, but for the most part it’s still the same game. Now, it’s just one of those things where you join a new club and you want to bond and get to know everybody and try to fit in with everybody. I’ll be honest with you, my first at-bat, I was as nervous as could be. But then afterwards, I kind of settled down a little bit…being in a new atmosphere was just a little bit stressful at first.”
But Clark has fit right in with his hew teammates, and could start to make some noise in the organization if he continues his torrid pace.
“If he can play, he can play. If you’re a player, you’re a player,” Franklin said. “Clark has played in an organization before, he’s aware of what this is all about and how things kind of go. The one thing they do well is play baseball, so I’m not worried. If the kid’s a good enough player, he’ll play well here.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com