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JOHNSON CITY GRAD CLARK REFLECTS ON MISSED SEASON, FIGHT TO GET TO MAJORS (7 PHOTOS) (2020-09-20)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
Just a few years after being released by the Atlanta Braves organization, Johnson City grad Ryan Clark was on the doorstep of making his Major League Baseball debut.

Then, the Covid-19 pandemic crippled the country, and resulted in a suspension of, and ultimately the cancellation, of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season.

“It’s been tough,” said Clark. “You want to be on the field, helping your team, and being a part of it, but there’s a plan for everyone.

“You just have to keep grinding, and keep working just in case you get your name called,” he added. “I think the hardest part is going through the same thing every day, and not being seen.”

Clark pitched for the Angels’ Class AA Mobile, and Class AAA Salt Lake affiliates in 2019.

At Mobile, Clark was 2-0 with six saves and a 2.96 ERA in 30 relief appearance. He struck out 64 and walked just 12 in 45 innings. He had three appearances at Salt Lake with a 9.64 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings of work.

At 26, Clark knows a year of inactivity doesn’t help his chances of getting to The Show.

“I’ve been building off the last couple years — getting better and better,” he said. “In my head, every year might be the year.

“Age is definitely playing a factor now, when it comes to my thought process,” added Clark. “You want to get the Majors as quickly as you can, and having the whole year off, takes away from your chances.”

Clark spent a portion of the offseason pitching in the Dominican Winter League. He posted a 2-1 record with a 6.39 record in 12 2/3 innings over 15 appearances.

“It was so much fun, and a really good experience,” he said. “The fans are rowdy, and they’re always chanting … they know everyone on the team. You’re showing up to other cities, and the fans are yelling at you from outside the bus.

“And, the talent is really good,” added Clark. “Some of the best ball players in the world come out of the Dominican. It was an awesome experience.”

Clark played his college ball at North Carolina-Greensboro. He was 14-13 in his career, with a 3.65 ERA, and 186 strikeouts in 217 innings.

He had one save in 24 relief appearances in his sophomore season, and made 28 stars over his final two seasons, pitching a shutout during his senior season.

Clark was drafted by the Braves in the spring of 2015, and posted  a 6-1 record with a 3.93 ERA for the Danville affiliate in the Appalachian Rookie League.

He struggled at High-A ball in 2016, posting a 2-13 record with a 5.75 ERA.

The Braves released him following the 2016 season.

“I think it was a combination of things,” said Clark.

“When I first got into the Braves system, they were at the end of the rebuilding process, and were stacked,” he noted. “I had my opportunity, but I had a rough year in 2016, and because they had so many other guys, they were able to let me go.

“(The Braves) told me when they released me that ‘I needed to keep playing, and keep pitching, we just don’t have a spot for you.’

“Truthfully, they were trying not to hurt my feelings, but I believe they were genuinely telling me they thought I could play,” added Clark. “I just needed to find the right spot with another team.”

The right spot turned out to be the Los Angeles Angels’ system.

Clark, who now resides in Ohio with his wife, was back in the Twin Tiers this week for the funeral of his uncle, John Goetz, who was a second-round selection of the Astros in 1975.

While home, he put in some time on the mound with an old friend, Andy Hutchings — the founder of the High Heat Baseball Academy, and a former pitcher and pitching coach at Binghamton University.

The Hutchings-Clark connection goes back a long ways.

“I knew John (Goetz) pretty well,” said Hutchings. “Ryan was 8 years old, and playing with my cousin in the Johnson City Little League.

“I started working with Ryan when he was little, and I worked with him right through high school.

“We spoke a lot when he was at college, and throughout the draft process,” added Hutchings. “Watching his career has been amazing.”

Clark said his repertoire includes a fastball between 94 and 96 miles per hours, and “I call it a breaking ball — it’s not really a curve ball, and it’s not really a slider. And, I started throwing a split this year.”

Clark wants to add to his arsenal, so it was only natural to contact Hutchings while he was home.

“Ryan reached out to me because he wants to develop a slider, it’s just like old times,” laughed Hutchings, “It’s pretty special.

“We’ve been working on a couple of different grips,” added Hutchings.

Clark is looking for a return to normal, and to get back to his “second family” with the Angels.

“I don’t have any stories like you see on “Bull Durham,” laughed Clark. “But, those guys are my family.

“It was a bunch of guys I’ve never met before, but by the end of the year we were best friends,” he added. “We’re all living together, and everyone is struggling, so we’re all struggling together.”

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IN PHOTO 1: Ryan Clark and Andy Hutchings. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.

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