OaklandClubhouse Q&A with Jermaine Clark

On Sunday evening, Sacramento River Cat utilityman Jermaine Clark went 3-4 with his fifth homerun of the season. The versatile Clark has been a valuable member of the River Cats all season. He also made a month-long appearance on the Oakland A's roster earlier this year. We caught up with Clark during a recent home-stand and discussed his role on the A's, playing for a hometown team, and his hopes for a call-up sometime in September…

Jermaine Clark has made a career of beating the odds. After a stand-out career at Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville, Clark was drafted in the 44th round of the major league draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rather then enter the Dodgers' system as a low draft pick, Clark elected to go to college and went to the University of San Francisco. Despite playing for a relatively low-profile program at USF, Clark was able to parlay his collegiate performance into being a fifth round pick by Seattle in 1997.

After four productive seasons in the Seattle organization, Clark was picked as a Rule Five draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 2000. He made the team out of spring training, but he had only two pinch-running appearances for Detroit before being returned to the Seattle organization. After a 2002 season split between the Seattle and Texas AAA clubs, Clark got the opportunity to play at the major league level for two teams in 2003. He played with San Diego for a game and appeared in 24 games with Texas. Last season, Clark signed with the Cincinnati Reds and appeared in 14 games with the Reds at the end of the season.

Last off-season, Clark elected to sign with his hometown team, the Oakland A's. Clark played well for the A's during spring training and was among the last cuts of the spring. He was recalled to Oakland on May 4 when the A's were ravaged with injuries both in their infield and outfield. Although he spent 30 days with the A's, he only appeared in a handful of games and had one plate appearance – a walk against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway. Clark has spent the remainder of the season with the Sacramento River Cats, spending time in both the infield and the outfield. Through Sunday, Clark was hitting .248 with five homeruns, 14 stolen base and 39 walks against only 33 strike outs. We sat down with Clark before a recent River Cats' home game for the following Q&A session.

OaklandClubhouse: How was it to play for a major league team from your hometown?

Clark: It was awesome. Growing up, I would go to A's and Giants games and tell my dad that I was going to play for them someday and he would say ‘Don't worry about that, go to school', so being able to fulfill that dream, it's something that every kid growing up in this area dreams to be able to do and I've been able to do that.

OaklandClubhouse: How much have you been able to showcase yourself as a versatile player that the A's would want to call-up in September?

Clark: I think I've done as much as I can. I've played some second base, I've played some third and some right and left field. However, with the mix of guys we have here [in Sacramento], we have a lot of guys with fixed positions. Barring a couple of injuries that have happened of late, I've been mostly playing second base. When I was in the big leagues [earlier this year], I played an inning in left field and a couple of innings at second base, so they know what I can do. I feel pretty comfortable that [A's manager] Ken Macha knows what I can do.

OaklandClubhouse: Was there an organization that you've been with that has helped you along the most in your career?

Clark: I would have to say first and foremost Seattle since they were the team that drafted me. Then I would have to say Detroit for big league ‘Rule Fiving' me. But probably more than anyone, I'd have to say Texas. I made the team out of spring training and I wasn't a Rule Five guy so I had to make the team out of the spring. That was a big feather in my cap to be able to make a team out of spring training.

OaklandClubhouse: What was the Rule Five experience like?

Clark: Brief [laughing]. I had a decent spring and made the team and then didn't really have a chance to play. I appeared in two games, both as a pinch runner, but I can't take away from the opportunity that I had. Some guys don't get two pinch running opportunities in their whole lives. I wish they would have put me on the field just to let me know what I could do, but everyone has a story and that's just mine.

OaklandClubhouse: What was it like to be drafted coming out of USF?

Clark: I was probably one of the first guys from USF to actually do something at the next level. Since I've come through, we've had Tagg Bozied and, obviously, Jesse Foppert, who is now with Seattle but was, of course, playing with San Francisco, and Dustin Delucchi. It was a great honor to be a guy to make it.

We always play as that school that no one pays attention to in the Bay Area with the Big Two [Cal and Stanford] plus Santa Clara, but it is a good brand of baseball in the West Coast Conference and we play our mid-week games against Stanfords and Cals. People used to slight us and I play off of that. I like to play the underdog. In my life, from my high school team on up, we've always been the underdog, so I thrive on that.

OaklandClubhouse: What did it mean to be given the number 4 when you got to spring training this year? I believe no one had worn that number since Miguel Tejada left in 2003?

Clark: In spring training, it started to get on my nerves a little bit. Fans kept saying, ‘Wear that number with pride', and during the spring I told one lady that ‘Miguel Tejada didn't care about Jermaine Clark when I wore 24, so I can't go out there trying to represent Miguel Tejada wearing number 4, I have my own issues to worry about.' [laughing]

Frankly, I was just glad I got a low number when I got to spring training. I actually had a discussion with Nick Swisher about it because he wears the number 33 and he said that he gets that all the time, people telling him that he should wear the number with pride since Jose Canseco wore that number. If we worried about that, we wouldn't be able to concentrate on the stuff we really need to focus on. I did notice [that he had Tejada's old number], but I was just glad I didn't have number 64 like I did last year [in Cincinnati]. You have a lot more hurdles to climb with the number 64 then you do with a low number.

OaklandClubhouse: What was it like to play with the team at Fenway Park earlier this season?

Clark: Historically, it was great. To be able to say that I was on that field was great. Fortunately for me, I was able to do both the New York and Boston trip so that was a tremendous thrill. But as good as it was to say that I played there, those two games [in Boston] were two of the most heart-breaking losses of the season [the A's dropped consecutive games to the Red Sox on walk-off homeruns off of closer Octavio Dotel]. It was a tough five-hour trip back home after the two walk-off homeruns. It was great because it was my only plate appearance, actually.

Don't get me wrong, it was great to get on the field, but when you are the 25th man on the roster, wins and losses are really important to you for your longevity on the ball club. For me, I was with the team when they weren't winning so they felt like they had to make some moves at the time. If we had been winning more, I might have stuck around longer, but hopefully I'll get back there soon.

OaklandClubhouse: Do you think about the possibility of being called up in September now?

Clark: I think my batting average reflects that I've been thinking about September a lot. I know that nothing I'm going to do tomorrow is going to affect their decision to bring me up, but you still want to have the statistics that make them think you've earned the right to be there. I know that if I do get the call, my role would be a very limited role, like it was when I was up there before. But I know that if I am up there, I can help the team, along with a Freddie Bynum, with my versatility and speed.

I've played GM for the last week and of course my name is in every move, but I understand that statistically my numbers are not the ones that they would necessarily warrant to call up. However, last time I was hitting something like .220 when they called me up, so anything is possible. I really want to be a part of it. I was there until the last out of spring training and they called me up. I feel like I know these guys [on the A's] and it would be tough to watch them in September from home.

OaklandClubhouse: Were you in the game playing for Texas when the A's clinched the division in 2003?

Clark: Oh, yeah [laughing]. I was the guy who picked up Adam Melhuse's ball [a game-winning single to left] when it went over the shortstop's head. It was the first time for me to be playing at home in front of friends and family so that was my main focus that night. But I did actually sit in the dugout after the game and I watched them celebrate because I've never been a part of a big league celebration. Really, though, I was just happy to be playing back home in front of friends and family. If someone would have told me that two years later I would be wearing number 4 and playing for the A's, I would have thought that they were crazy.

OaklandClubhouse: How did you guys celebrate the River Cats clinching the division title?

Clark: It was kind of weird, actually. It was at the end of a 13-game road-trip in Fresno and a lot of guys had their cars there, so a number of people split up and went their own way after the game. Honestly, we've been up so many games for so long, clinching wasn't really that big of a deal. There is so much more baseball left to be played. We could go out and lose three [in the playoffs] and it would be over, so we know we have a lot more to do. I think it was good that it was low-key because when you step on that field [Raley Field in Sacramento] and you see all of those championship banners, you realize that the focus isn't on winning division titles, the focus is on winning championships.

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