Thursday, August 7, 2014

Interview Part 3: Phil Clark, His Character

Mahoning Valley hitting coach Phil Clark, dugout steps, at Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY, in August 2014. Waiting to hit are Scrappers hitters, Steven Patterson, left, and Greg Allen, right. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: That Opportunity | Part 2: Proved Himself
Part 3: His Character

In his four years in Japan, Phil Clark hit 93 home runs. Success there, though, didn't come quickly for the outfielder from Texas, he recalled.

"It took me two months to gain that success," Clark recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days. "It took a long time. That's something people don't know. It's really tough your first year. It tells a lot about your character."

"The guys you see go over there and play well," Clark said, "it says a lot about their personality, their character, to be able to overcome and withstand some of the issues."

Clark eventually overcame his early difficulties with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to hit .331 on the year. He also hit 23 home runs and knocked in 93.

It was success he would repeat over the next two seasons and into a fourth. That was all after a career in the major leagues where he saw time in five seasons with three clubs.

Clark spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently in Troy, NY, where Clark's Mahoning Valley Scrappers were taking on the Tri-City Valley Cats. Clark is serving in 2014 as hitting coach for the team.

Clark covered his career in baseball, from growing up in a baseball family in Texas, to turning pro and making the majors. In one season there, with the Padres, Clark getting into more than 100 games.
Mahoning Valley hitting coach Phil Clark before a game at Tri-City's Bruno Stadium. (G21D Photo)
Clark also talked about his time in Japan. In Japan, Clark recalled breaking free from American conventions on hitting. He also broke out for all those home runs hit over his four seasons there.

Clark recalled going to Japan thinking it was his ticket back to the majors. He eventually came to realize that wasn't what he wanted. He knew he wouldn't be returning to the bigs.

"It got to the point where that was my major leagues," Clark said. "It was competitive. It was giving me a chance to play everyday."

When he played, he eventually excelled. He recalled the pitching on the Japanese clubs as strong. The pitchers, he recalled, all had good fastballs and threw a lot of the same pitches as pitchers in the states did.

The teams, as well, he said, treat their players like major leaguers. He recalled riding on super fast trains. "They're awesome," he said.

As for the success he enjoyed there, Clark attributed that to being able to do his own thing, try his own approach to hitting.
Scrappers hitting coach Phil Clark, left, in the dugout at Bruno Stadium. Scrappers hitter Leo Castillo is at right. (G21D Photo)
"I didn't have anyone telling me how to hit anymore," Clark recalled. "I didn't have anyone telling me that I have to utilize the opposite side of the field. I could take chances. I could have a mindset where I could gamble."

"What I got out of that was I found a new-found power within me, an ability that I didn't know I had when I played in America."

What he found was pull power, he said.

Opposite field hitting is important, Clark said, but it's not for everybody.

"I was raised up on the mindset that you have to be an opposite field hitter to be a major leaguer," Clark said. "That's not true."

Clark played for Kintetsu from 1997 to 2000, playing all four years beside fellow American slugger Tuffy Rhodes. In 1998, Clark slugged 31 home runs, with 114 RBI. In 1999 it was 29 home runs.

His career in Japan over, Clark returned stateside and he largely returned to private life. When he retired, Clark recalled, he wanted to retire.
Scrappers coach Phil Clark in the dugout as hitter Steven Patterson walks to the plate at Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY, in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
He settled in the Orlando area and started coaching local youth teams. He also coached at a private Christian high school.

It was in speaking to another former major leaguer, Reggie Jefferson, that Clark ultimately made his way back into the pro ranks. Jefferson, Clark recalled, just asked Clark if he wanted to bet back into coaching. Clark responded he did.

After so many years of dealing with parents, he wanted to see what pro coaching was like.

In 2009, Clark signed on with the Indians and was assigned to Mahoning Valley as hitting coach. After other stops in the Cleveland system, he is back at Mahoning Valley for 2014.

Now he's using the information and knowledge he gained as a player to help younger players on their way up.

He also has to find creative ways to do that, he said.

"I don't think players want to hear about my playing days," Clark said. "I don't think they want to hear me say 'when I was your age, I did this.' I don't think they want to hear that. I have to be as creative as possible to try to transfer that information to them."

Part 1: That Opportunity | Part 2: Proved Himself
Part 3: His Character

Make sure and read Part 1: Phil Clark, That Opportunity

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