Clark Shows State Colors Again As CWS Legend

Well, in Mississippi State minds--and not to say his own—Will Clark has worn the popular label of legend ever since he left Dudy Noble Field. "So I guess I'm officially one now!" Clark laughs, as he looks forward to joining all his classmates on the inaugural NCAA/College World Series Legends Team.

This debut special squad, consisting of 25 players and three coaches who wrote their names into Rosenblatt Stadium history, will be saluted June 18 during opening night ceremonies for the 2010 College World Series. This is the final year the national championship event will be hosted by Rosenblatt and to mark the occasion a national vote was undertaken to select the most memorable names who played at the park during a CWS.

And when all the ballots were tallied, guess who came out in first place? It was Mississippi State's own Clark, based on the still-strong impression he made at the 1985 Series.

"That was a really, really nice that the College World Series did where they elected an all-legends team," Clark said. "And I was also the top vote getter. So it's a doubly-special honor for me. But then not only that, I get a chance to represent Mississippi State out on the field."

And not in a low-key way, either. Which is no surprise to all who recall how the brash New Orleans native carried himself on and off Dudy Noble Field when he carried the colors from 1983-85. Nobody watching the ceremony will have to wonder where Clark is coming from.

"I'm going to be wearing a Mississippi State jersey and a Mississippi State hat." Which produces the natural gig-response from a writer who knew Clark back in that day: not wear the whole uniform? Tough finding a belt to fit the playing-pants these days? "No kidding!" Clark cackles, not the least caring that the slender State star of a quarter-century ago and 15-year professional athlete has become a man of some, shall we say, substance?

Not to worry though, as Clark's wardrobe still contains plenty of the college colors, such as the Mississippi State Baseball shirt he wore to LSU's stadium for the evening. "I tell you, whenever I come to the ballpark with maroon on it brings back a lot of fond memories wearing the uniform."

No, ‘Will the Thrill' revels in his roots wherever he goes, whether that is on his current job with the San Francisco Giants or here in the adopted residence of Baton Rouge. He and the family moved up I-10 five years ago following the 2005 hurricane, but then again Clark says this had been their plan for some time already. He's still not a total homebody, despite the demands of a 14-year-old son and 8-year old daughter. But then his duties with the Giants organization aren't all that consuming either.

"My official title is special assistant to the general manager in San Francisco." The club he broke in with, drafted in '85 and called up the next year to the big club. Where his pro legend began with a first Major League at-bat home run off no less a light than Nolan Ryan.

His best years were by the bay though Clark also played for Texas, Baltimore, and finally St. Louis before hanging up the cleats in 2000. Not, of course, the Golden Spikes. That trophy, college baseball's legitimate counterpart to the Heisman, is at home, while a replica is in the Mississippi State baseball office complex. A complex Clark contributed to the building of, along with other additions and renovations of Dudy Noble Field over the years.

"I went to (Giants) spring training for three weeks this year," Clark says. "Last year I was out in San Francisco five times and this year I'll probably be out there five times also. And, see a minor league team, too." The Giants brass like have Clark's viewpoint on players, as well as getting him with some of their developing personnel along the way.

"I still try to help out as much as possible with some of the young players and say hey, look, this is a way to avoid the pitfalls that we fell into." And while he claims no credit, Clark likes how the Giants are back on the way-up after a long dry spell…even if they're not a bunch of bayside bombers these days. "Pitching and defense win games and we have some pitching. San Francisco has some arms, we've just got to find a way to score a few more runs."

Which was not at all a problem for those Diamond Dog squads of the mid-1980s. Not with Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, the ‘Thunder and Lightning' duo, slugging away at the heart of a…yes, a legendary lineup. Either of those big batters, or a trio of Bulldog pitchers—Jeff Brantley, Gene Morgan, Bobby Thigpen—or for that matter any big-play Diamond Dog could have easily caught the Rosenblatt fancy during the four-game stay in June '85.

It just happened to be State's firey first baseman who wowed the crowd during wins over Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The former, by the way, featuring Clark's closest rival that year for the Golden Spikes Award. Some folk at Stillwater still hold a grudge their Pete Incaviglia didn't get the honor in fact. Bulldog faithful of the era of course bemoan what happened in the pivotal Texas contest, when after State built a lead in the mid-innings a shot off Morgan's shin broke MSU momentum and led to loss. Saturday produced the heart-wrenching, even –wrecking last-inning loss to Miami on a walk-off homer after Thigpen had tied it up on grand slam.

Time won't sooth those memories entirely in Starkville, and Clark still ponders what the '85 squad might have achieved if not for that fluke Friday ground ball. It could have, should have been the Diamond Dogs playing the Texas-Miami survivor for the national title. Yet a whole quarter-century later, it is the Bulldog who is coming back to Rosenblatt as a Legend.

"You know what, that's because people still remember," Clark says. "The College World Series on ESPN was on its infancy back then and it was a lot of fun. I had a ball and I know my teammates had a ball, and it was really good to represent Mississippi State."

He'll get to do it again this June. Interestingly, though he had heard about plans for such an ‘all Omaha' selection Clark had no idea he'd make the cut. Much less receive the most votes. And he didn't get the big news from the CWS or NCAA either.

"I found out through Joe Dier," he says, of the then-Dawgs' Bite editor and longtime State baseball publicist. "He called me up and said did you hear about this? I said, no! Why don't you call somebody and have them tell me! They did so I got all the information." Including the full roster of players and coaches. There are many great names to read, including many future Major League All-Stars like Clark. Naturally though Clark, the eternal competitor, is absolutely certain if that team was lined-up for a game he'd be taking his position as the starting first baseman.

"Yes. Yes! The other first baseman is Dustin Ackley from North Carolina and nothing against Dustin but I'd give him a run for his money." A polite way in Clark-ese of saying wait your turn, kid. But then even if he's only wearing cap-and-jersey on this last trip to the grand old park, which is being replaced for 2011 by a sparkling new stadium closer to the city's central district, it means much for Clark to pull on anything resembling game gear.

"Omaha was one of the proud moments of my life, but not only playing at Mississippi State but after that representing them during my pro career. That's all I can say, it was a blast!"

Gene's Page Top Stories