Clark Likes The Look Of 2006 Diamond Dogs

For all anyone could tell he was just being another Diamond Dog fan visiting a hostile ballpark. Wearing maroon-and-white, sitting with family or visiting with friends, and all the while rooting for his old coach and a new Bulldog ball team.

Yet technically Will Clark could claim he was spending a ‘working' weekend there at Alex Box Stadium. "Our area scout with the Diamondbacks called me up and wanted me to look at a few guys at State and LSU," Clark grinned. "So I've actually been doing a little halfway-scouting here!"

But of course anyone who ever got to know the Mississippi State All-American and Major League all-star understands one fact about Clark: there isn't much he does halfway or half-hearted. It's just that with time Clark has been able to adapt that legendary focus for the task at hand and, well, to multi-task.

This is how he could take in all the action of another typically tense Mississippi State-Louisiana State contest, while also evaluating the individual actions of everyone on the field…and still conduct an impromptu interview with several media members mid-game. In the midst of answering a question about his current status Clark watched a Diamond Dog drop a base hit into the outfield that got through a lax defender for a RBI, make a comment—"Good teams make things happen, there's a ball that gets in the gap."—and resume the previous response without missing a note.

Speaking of good teams, Clark appreciates what this 2006 edition of the Diamond Dogs has been doing. A team which, it's been well-publicized, just broke a record set by Clark's own 1985 MSU team for the best start in program history. "You know, from what I've seen so far they're a good, solid group of players," he said.

"I mean, every one of them is hitting above .300, some over .400. They look like they catch the ball real well. And the one big thing that Coach Polk and Rusty (McNickle) have told me, they're throwing strikes. And that's a big thing, when you're got a college team that throws strikes you're not giving away free outs. A team has to get three base hits to beat you, basically."

The Bulldogs did right by all their fans at Baton Rouge, taking two of three from the Tigers. They were able to secure the series victory without even a base hit, as a bases-loaded fly ball by shortstop Thomas Berkery scored the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth inning. The 7-6 triumph makes State 19-1 overall, 4-1 SEC, and winners in the first SEC road trip of the schedule.

Even though Clark did watch State drop its first game of the season Saturday, the rest of the weekend was a hit for the old Dog. He and brother Scott, also a former Diamond Dog, brought their kids to the park and renewed some old contacts. This wasn't much of a trip for Will, though, as the New Orleans native he now resides in Baton Rouge.

"We were in Metarie and knock-on-wood, we didn't have that much damage," Clark said. "But we were talking about moving anyway and when the storm hit (last summer) it gave me a good opportunity. And we moved to Baton Rouge." The address changed, not the loyalties. "I'm in Tiger country but I'm still wearing my maroon-and-white. I hate purple-and-gold!"

But he loves what the latest Diamond Dog squad has been doing, even if he had a very good inside tip to expect big things in 2006. "I had a chance to talk to Coach Polk before the season started. Normally he's sort of ‘ahhh, well, we might be OK,' one of those kinds of guys, y'know? This year he said we're going to be pretty good. That was like an eye-opener!

"So ever since they started the season I've been following them, if not in the paper then watching them on the computer." Though, he's had no luck convincing Polk that on-line is the way to go in the game now.

Clark is still in the game himself, now in his second year as a special assistant with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In fact he came to the MSU-LSU series straight from spring training. "I was down there two weeks working with some of their younger hitters." As the Major League season gets under way he is on call with Arizona for other tasks, including the informal scouting. Regardless, there is still very much a place in the pro game for Clark since he hung up the spikes after the 2000 season at St. Louis.

"When I retired I was with the Cardinals, then Dusty Baker asked me to come in and I was with him for a year (with Chicago's Cubs). Then I went back to the Cardinals, and now I've been with the Diamondbacks for two years."

Of course he broke in to the Major Leagues in 1986 with San Francisco, having been a first-round draft pick in 1985. His seven seasons with the Giants were his most productive professionally, but it seems Clark didn't leave much of his heart in San Francisco. And as with any pro, current or former, the current controversies swirling around San Francisco are a sensitive subject. Clark says emphatically he has no plans to read the new book on Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

"My affiliation with the Giants ended a while back and I'm doing alright now," he says, quite diplomatically. "I'm more interested with what is happening with the Diamondbacks, and I follow the Cardinals because I like that organization. It's just a circus going on out there (in San Francisco) right now."

At the same time Clark acknowledges that, as a lifetime baseball man, that circus and other ongoing scandals about pro players and drugs can't help but taint what the public perceives.

"Hey, it was proven through several other guys that cheaters sooner or later are going to get caught. All it does is just tarnish the reputation of the game, and the reputation of a lot of guys like myself that tried to go out there and do it right every day."

It's more fun to talk about the state of State's game, as well as of the Southeastern Conference in general. Clark laughs when one writer asks what excuse Polk has now that his 11.7 scholarships-limited squad is ranked first in the country and beating programs from extra-grant stats. More seriously, "Well, I tell you the thing about Ron, I tip my cap to him, with the scholarship limits he's done a great job. You look at LSU and they do it not only with scholarships but the Tops program, too, so they've got a little more leeway to work with. Whereas Mississippi State and Ole Miss don't have that luxury.

"The thing I think about Ron is he got the SEC started into baseball. Then Skip Bertman came to LSU and won all those national championships and everybody in the SEC had to raise their level of play to match LSU and Mississippi State. What you're seeing now is not only two quality programs here but your Tennessees and Kentuckys are actually playing good baseball."

Meanwhile Mississippi State is playing as well as any in the land. Which leads to the inevitable question, the comparisons of this Bulldog squad and the fabled bunch that won the '85 SEC Championship (in the SEC Tournament at Baton Rouge, coincidentally enough) and finished third in the College World Series. Here Clark becomes entirely objective.

"Well, looking at the two ball clubs, I think they have a better offense one-through-nine. You've got nine-hole hitters hitting .340 or whatever. We probably had more power than they did, but they're also doing a lot better job of pitching. We had Jeff Brantley and Gene Morgan and after that we got a little thin; these guys are pretty strong all the way through."

Well, then, if the teams could be lined up and play ball…? Clark laughs. "Who wins? Oh, why do you ask me! You guys go do that on the computer!"

Safe to say that's one thing Clark did not learn from his old coach.


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