Clark's Cooperstown tour had impact‏

* Tony Clark, the new executive director of the Players' Association, says a trip to Cooperstown early in his career changed his life and gave him a new perspective on the game. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list

By Bob Elliott

CLEARWATER -- Many have made memorable trips to Cooperstown heads crammed with diamond dreams.

It wasn’t that way when Tony Clark arrived in the summer of 1992.

He’d been a shooting guard at the University Arizona and then San Diego State for three years. After being a second-round choice of the Detroit Tigers, as general manager Bill Lajoie gave him a $500,000 US signing bonus, he played outfield in the summer (25 games at rookie-class Bristol in 1990, none in 1991 and 27 at class-A Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1992).

Now, new executive director of the Players’ Association, Clark is making the rounds: in Tampa and Dunedin on Monday and Clearwater on Wednesday.

Larry Parrish was managing the 6-foot-7 Clark when he took the outfielder to the Hall of Fame as a side trip, an off shoot of a Niagara Falls visit to Oneonta.

“Was I 50-50 between basketball and baseball then? No, I was a basketball player in a baseball uniform,” said Clark the other day in Dunedin.

“That visit changed my life, it gave me a different perspective,” said Clark. “I had a conversation with myself ... ‘I could be in here some day.’”

The way Parrish recalled in 1997 as Detroit’s hitting coach: "I told him, 'You never know, but some day you could be here. Your bust might be up on the wall too.'"

The exhibit which Clark said propelled him from the hoops to the diamond was the Negro Leagues exhibit, now called the Pride and Passion section. That was one moment of his tour which stands out, but there were others.

“I thought of all the great players who had come before me and how if I made the Tigers I could play where Al Kaline and Hank Greenberg played. I could stand in the same batter’s box as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.”

The switch hitter stood in the same batter’s box as Cobb and Ruth, growing up to be a major leaguer like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, whose plaques he saw in the Hall.

A week after Cooperstown, he was doing a one-handed hitting drill and broke his wrist ending his season. Clark hit .306 at The Falls, as Parrish fielded daily calls from Tigers president Bo Schembechler.

Clark played 15 years with the Tigers, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, earning one all-star berth.

Tour topics of discussion include interpretation and implementation of the new rules for plate collisions, qualifying offers which has the likes of free agents Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales without jobs and the Biogenesis investigation.

Clark, who took over for the late Michael Weiner, has fielded plenty of questions.

“Michael was not only a friend, he was my mentor,” said the first ex-player to hold the position. “He was someone that as an active player I leaned on ... I came on board because of his vision for the organization and he believed in it. I believed in what he was hoping to accomplish as executive director.

“The idea that I’m here now is hard for me to swallow from the standpoint of expecting to be in Michael’s hip pocket for 15 to 20 years. Do I enjoy being around players? Yes. Do I enjoy the feeling when I put my head down at the end of the day that I’ve had a chance to impact active guys? Yes. Do I enjoy it? I don’t know. I’m humbled by it.”

We had not seen Clark since Tucson, Az. in 2006 at the Diamondbacks spring training. And now twice in three days.

We’d gone to Tucson for a story on ex-Blue Jay Orlando Hudson.

“Look at this,” Hudson screamed behind the batting cage to Shawn Green, Carlos Tosca, Jay Bell and Clark. “This guy came all the way from Toronto to write a story on ME!”

He told Conor Jackson, Orlando [El Duque] Hernandez and Stephen Drew the same.

Ah, I drove 115 miles after the World Baseball Classic ended in Phoenix.

“No matter, it’s too hot, let’s go to the clubhouse, we’ll talk, it’s air conditioned, I’ll make you a sandwich,” said Hudson.

No, you’ll get fined in kangaroo court.

At his new position, Clark is surrounded by good people in 6-foot-6 Dave Winfield, the Hall of Famer, and former Montreal Expos ace Steve Rogers at 6-foot-2.

Having been around long enough to see the fiery Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr, who used words we did not comprehend (union execs Tom Glavine and Paul Molitor served as our de-coder rings) and down-to-earth Weiner, we can make a comparison.

He is ex player who has the same eloquent charisma over a crowd as his mentor Weiner.

Clark did not make Cooperstown as a player, but the impetus the village gave him has him in position to guide the ship of those few headed to upstate New York.