Touching Base with Dave Clark
Every Friday through Spring Training, we ran a feature called “Touching Base” in an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers to the two returnees.
Coaches duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts, and we hope this gives you a little insight into what they do from day to day.
We end the six-week series with third base coach Dave Clark.
They say the best way to age 10 years in half that time is to a) be the President of the United States or b) be a Major League Baseball manager.
But you can probably add one more to the list: third base coach.
They hear the boos, the cheers, the jeers, the suggestions (“Squeeze! Send him! Hold him!”) and the constructive criticism (“you stink!”). It’s a thankless job, where you’re pretty much darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
Such is life for Dave Clark, who chuckles at the reactions he sometimes sparks from the fans sitting on the third base side of the field.
“You hear all kinds of things,” Clark laughed. “You either love that third base coach or you hate him. Most of the time, people hate me, hate them, hate that guy.”
(Quick commentary: I’m of the opinion that every fan of every team experiences at least two of the following three sentiments, and often, all three, multiple times in a single season: 1) they want their GM fired; 2) they think their third base coach is the worst third base coach in the history of baseball; 3) they think their team is the very worst of the 30 teams at scoring from third with less than two outs. It’s pretty much universal).
Clark prides himself on being aggressive with his baserunners but also tries to be conservative in the right situations. With only a few seconds to make what can be a key decision between winning and losing a game, a third base coach has no time to mull over the “what ifs.” They do that after the game, and sometimes several times through the night.
“Heck yea,” he said, asked if certain decisions kept him up at night. “There were a few times last year I’d see a play in my head, I’d go to bed, I’d wake up with the same play. It goes over and over in my head, Did I make the right decision? Most of the time, I think I did.”
Coaching third base is Clark’s most visible duty, but it’s not his only one. Behind the scenes, Clark is in charge of positioning the outfielders and making sure they’re ready for any and all conditions that they’ll come across over the course of a season.
“Fly balls, ground balls, sun balls,” Clark said. “There are so many little things people don’t realize and don’t see that we have to work on. We try to hit every area there is: the wind, the sun, the playing surfaces. We go into every series knowing how hard the outfield is, if it’s fast, if it’s slow.”
Clark is entering his second season as the Astros’ third base coach, although he left that post briefly in September of last year to manage the club in the wake of Cecil Cooper’s dismissal. Prior to joining the Major League club, Clark spent six seasons as a Minor League manager from 2003-08, winning two league titles while twice being named Manager of the Year. As a player, he was an outfielder, patrolling both right field and left field for 13 years.
Teams assign duties to their coaches depending on their areas of expertise, which is why it made sense for the third base coach to be in charge of outfielders this year. In the past, Jose Cruz, himself a former left fielder, oversaw the outfielders in addition to serving as first base coach.
Defensive alignment is one of the coaching staff’s most important jobs, but from a public standpoint, Clark realizes he’ll be judged by one thing only: waving the runners home.
“I love being aggressive,” Clark said. “There are certain times in a game that you have to be aggressive. There are certain times when you have to be conservative. And that’s just from being around the game long enough to know.”
As for the hecklers behind third base…
“They’re out there, having fun, paying money to watch the game,” Clark said, adding with a laugh, “but they could cool off on me a little bit.”
Just the facts: Dave Clark
Born: Tupelo, MS
Resides: Collierville, TN
Drafted: First round by the Cleveland Indians, 1983.
Major League debut: September 3, 1986
Final game: September 27, 1998
Little known facts: He was inducted into the Jackson State Sports Hall of Fame in November of 2000, joining the likes of Walter Payton, Jackie Slater and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd; his brother, Louis, played seven years in the NFL with Seattle and Green Bay; He was 26-0 as a Golden Gloves boxer while in high school.