Clark looking to follow in father's footsteps

Clark looking to follow in father's footsteps

Clark looking to follow in father's footsteps
PEORIA, Ariz. -- First base has suddenly become an area of significant depth for the Padres, who have three players in camp -- Jesus Guzman, Yonder Alonso and Kyle Blanks -- who will get some significant looks at the position during Cactus League play this spring.

A fourth first baseman, Matt Clark, has produced 80 home runs with his left-handed swing in his first four seasons in the Padres Minor League system.

"I think it's great ... it's good for competition," Padres manager Bud Black said when he was asked on Sunday about the depth at first base. "You know what's good? It's good to have good players."

While Clark, 25, is likely headed back to Triple-A Tucson because of this depth, he won't wallow at all about his standing in the organization -- a testament, he said, to watching how his father, Terry, who pitched six seasons in the Major Leagues for seven teams, handled himself.

Terry Clark pitched in the big leagues from 1988-90, then didn't appear in the Major Leagues again until 1995, after working his way back after several surgeries -- knee, shoulder and then reconstructive elbow surgery.

"I've been in the clubhouse since I was a little kid," Clark said. "And just seeing what he went through, he played 20 years [professionally] but only six in the big leagues, all the highs and all the lows, all of the surgeries, you see how he handled it.

"I took a lot away from watching him."

Clark got a chance to spend a lot of time with his father at the ballpark in 1995 when Terry Clark was a pitcher for the Orioles. That was the season that shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed Lou Gehrig's then 56-year-old record for the most consecutive games played (2,131).

Clark was there in the clubhouse before and after the game on Sept. 6 when Ripken broke the record. He had a seat right behind home plate as a 9-year-old. His father even pitched in that game.

"Being in that clubhouse, seeing how all of that happened ... it's something that I'll never forget," Clark said. "My dad pitched in game 2,131, and we have that game ball at home.

"It was fun to see Cal go through all of that. You're probably never going to see that again. It's one of the most unique experiences I could ever go through."

Now, Clark would like nothing more than to follow his father's footsteps and reach the Major Leagues.

Clark, whom the Padres selected with their 12th-round Draft pick in 2008 out of Louisiana State, has produced a slash line of .279/.357/.491 during his time in the Minor Leagues. He was left unprotected this winter, though he wasn't selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Black is happy he wasn't.

"Clarkie is a guy who has produced every level he's been at," Black said. "In Clarkie's case, he's got to keep putting up numbers. He's a guy that has had to earn everything he's done. That's great. That's a tribute to him that he keeps producing."

Clark hit .292 with 23 home runs and 83 RBIs last season with Triple-A Tucson, while seeing time at the designated hitter spot before Anthony Rizzo was promoted to San Diego.

With it looking like Alonso and Guzman making the Padres' Opening Day roster -- Mark Kotsay can also fill-in at first base in a pinch -- Blanks and Clark are likely headed back to Tucson.

It's not something Clark will let bother him, and the same could be said for worrying about the players ahead of him on the Padres depth chart. But if he's learned anything from his father, it's patience and perseverance.

"Just keep doing what I've been doing. I guess you have to be patient sometimes even though it's not fun. You got to keep putting in your work, and hope you get a chance to show people what you can do, and hopefully get a chance to play in the big leagues," he said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.