Wife's heart ailment gives Clark pause

Surgery delays arrival of O's first baseman, but he's ready now

February 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Will Clark arrived at spring training Wednesday and participated in yesterday's first full workout for position players. He had followed the same routine for 13 years but this month threatened a painful departure.

Clark, who initially planned to report Feb. 19 with Orioles pitchers and catchers, said he nearly postponed this week's arrival when his wife, Lisa, underwent open-heart surgery two weeks ago to repair the quarter-sized hole in the organ. A three-hour operation repaired the congenital condition, which caused shortness of breath and fatigue and had to be addressed within a year.

"It's been very stressful the last few weeks and my mind has been focused on one thing and that's making sure she's OK," Clark said. "Now being down here gives you something else to think about."

Clark had told Orioles general manager Frank Wren and manager Ray Miller of his uncertain arrival but got to camp on time when Lisa exhibited a quick recovery.

"It's hard to prepare for it," Clark said. "Now that I'm down here, I've got quite a few things I need to do on the field and five or six weeks to do it in. I'll be concentrating on that."

Unlike past springs, Lisa will not travel to her husband's spring training site. "She's a lot more healthy than when she went in but she can't do certain things like drive or fly," he said.

The personal concerns followed a winter of professional upheaval that caused Clark to accept a two-year, $10 million contract from the Orioles after the Texas Rangers reversed course less than a day before they were to re-sign him.

Clark, who turns 35 next month, hoped to finish his career with the Rangers and even planned a Dec. 2 flight to Arlington, Texas, to finalize negotiations. But the day before Clark was to leave, Orioles free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro agreed to a hastily arranged, five-year, $45 million contract.

The Orioles insisted Palmeiro reneged on an agreement and also sabotaged their negotiations for free-agent third baseman Robin Ventura. For his part, Clark hid any disappointment yesterday, stowing sentiment to make room for reality.

"It would be different if I was in the same position as Cal [Ripken], being with one team my whole career. But I had gone through free agency before," said Clark, who spent the first eight years of his career with the San Francisco Giants.

"I don't have blinders on. I know this is a business. I know because of free agency; I know because of trades; I know because of salaries that people aren't going to be able to stay in one place. You can sit there and say it's not a business but you would be lying to yourself. There's going to be some times when you're going to have to pick up and go. That was what happened in Texas. I completely understand the business aspect of it."

Clark matter-of-factly answered questions, bristling only when someone asked whether he needed to prove himself anew.

"I've been proving myself for 13 years now. You can't come to a different ballclub and be somebody you're not. I'm just going to do the same thing I've done for 13 years and see if we can't win a championship over here," said Clark, coming off a .305 season that included 23 home runs and 102 RBIs.

Clark insisted he is injury-free, anxious to blend within a new clubhouse and comfortable hitting anywhere within Miller's still-hazy batting order. Miller initially projected him as his cleanup hitter but recent hints have ticketed Clark for third or fifth in the lineup. Clark batted almost exclusively in the No. 5 spot last season.

"I don't care," said Clark. "In 1987 I was the leadoff hitter. Stick me in the lineup and I'll hit. I told Ray Miller that when I first signed here. Put me wherever you want me."

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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