Clark took long road to join Regan

SIDELIGHT

June 30, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Single-A ballpark in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is called the Epicenter, because it's near the San Andreas fault. The long and strange and winding road that brought reliever Terry Clark to the Orioles started there in May 1993, in the most absurd of circumstances.

Good thing, too, because Clark has become a critical part of the Orioles' bullpen. The right-handed setup man has allowed exactly no earned runs in his first nine appearances.

And in May 1993, Clark, then 32, was out of a job, and nearly out of baseball. The year before, pitching for Colorado Springs, he blew out his right elbow, hours after he had been told he was going to the majors with the Cleveland Indians. His manager, Charlie Manuel, had asked him to pitch one last inning, and although Clark's elbow felt stiff, he relented.

Clark had reconstructive surgery that summer, and the next year, he couldn't find a job, so he started throwing batting practice for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, a Single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Free of charge. He used to play with the Quakes' manager, Bruce Champion, and Champion figured so long as it didn't cost anything, so what.

Clark and his wife, Lorraine, were surviving off his workers' compensation, $1,700 a month. They talked about quitting the game, but he figured he'd hang on. Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgeon who operated on Clark's elbow, told him he might actually throw harder than before once he recovered. Clark laughed that off, but once he started throwing, he did feel strong.

But he couldn't get a contract. Finally, in late June of '93, Clark was pitching in a celebrity game at Rancho Cucamonga, against former Dodger Tommy Davis and other players. Actor Mark Harmon was his catcher. Padres farm director Ed Lynch was there, so Champion encouraged Clark to show off a little -- and he threw hard. Lynch offered him a job, pitching for Double-A Wichita, in the Texas League. Pay: $1,400 a month. Clark jumped at it.

One of his stops went through San Antonio, Texas. A Los Angeles advance scout was in the stands when Clark pitched one day. Guy named Phil Regan.

When the season was over, Clark's agent tried lining up a job for him in winter ball, and called the manager of a Venezuelan team. Guy named Phil Regan, who agreed to take him on. That winter, Regan worked him heavily, Clark pitching in 36 of 60 games -- just what Clark wanted.

Regan became pitching coach for the Indians that winter, and wanted them to sign Clark. But Clark's agent had already signed off Clark to the Atlanta Braves. Clark tried to get the deal reversed, but spent the entire '94 season pitching for Richmond. Jobe was right: Clark's fastball, which had been clocked at 85 mph on a good day, occasionally sped into the low-90s. He couldn't believe it.

He started '95 in the majors. When he wouldn't go back to the minors and got his release from the Braves on May 15, he had his agent call the Orioles.

Sure, Regan said, I'd like him. Clark signed May 16, pitched about three weeks in Triple-A before being promoted. "It was tough," he said, "but I struggled through."

The long and hard road stopped in Baltimore, where Terry Clark is Phil Regan's right-hand man.

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