For Ryan Clark, a former pitcher with the Owens Community College men's
baseball team from 2000-2001, his goal of one day playing in the Major
Leagues has taken a large step forward.
This past summer, the North Baltimore native signed a professional baseball contract with the New York Yankees and became one of the star pitchers for the Staten Island Yankees, New York's Single A affiliate.
"It was like a dream came true when I was drafted by the Yankees," said Clark, a 1998 North Baltimore High School graduate.
Selected in the 45th round in the June 2000 Major League Baseball draft, Clark said he was somewhat awestruck when he arrived in Staten Island to begin his playing career with the Yankees' minor league baseball club.
"Coming from a small town in Ohio, I had to make a major adjustment living in Staten Island," Clark said. "I also realized there was a major difference in the caliber of baseball players at the professional level. Where in college I could sometimes get away with throwing balls early in the count and battling back to strike out batters, I realized I can't do that at the minor league level.
"It's very important in professional baseball to get ahead in the count and throw strikes early. The coaches with the Staten Island Yankees stressed that point," he said.
Beginning his professional baseball career in early June, the left-hander posted a 2-0 record with a 1.15 ERA. In 29 games, he struck out 37 batters in 31.1/3 innings as a relief pitcher. Clark primarily was used as a set-up pitcher until mid-August when he assumed the closer's role. He finished the season with seven saves.
During Clark's first year in the minor leagues, his relief pitching contributed to Staten Island posting a 48-28 record in the McNamara Division of the New York-Penn League, finishing second to the Brooklyn Cyclones. The 48 victories is the most in the team's three-year history. In the first round of playoffs, the Yankees lost to Brooklyn two games to one.
"When Ryan was drafted by the New York Yankees in June 2000, he wasn't ready to make the jump to professional baseball," said Dick Groch, Midwest Territorial Supervisor for the Yankees. "By staying a second year at Owens, it allowed him to mature and improve as a pitcher."
"During his first year at Staten Island, Ryan became a dominating force as a left-handed relief pitcher," Groch said. "With his physical makeup, as well as being a hard-thrower, he has gravitated to the role as a middle reliever and has become a very successful two- to three-inning pitcher.
Middle-inning relief pitchers play a very important role in putting together a major league team. "This is the position the Yankee organization had in mind when Ryan was drafted," Groch said. "I anticipate Ryan will make the jump to the Tampa Yankees or Greensboro Bats, which are both full-season Single A affiliates for the Yankees."
Clark, who relies on four pitches which are a fastball, slider, split-finger and a changeup, credits a lot of his success to the Staten Island coaches.
"One area of pitching the Yankee coaches continually stressed and helped me with throughout the season was my pitching mechanics," Clark said. "This is an area I need to improve in during the off-season. The Yankee organization also gave me a strength and conditioning program to follow, preparing myself for Spring Training in February."
During the 2000 baseball season, Clark set Owens records for strikeouts in a season (110), wins in a season (9) and career wins (17). He also was named the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference Player-of-the-Year, as well as receiving National Junior College Athletic Association All-American, All-OCCAC and NJCAA Region XII first team honors, respectively. The Express finished the season with 35-14 record.
"I'm really proud of Ryan and the success he has had both at Owens and during his first professional baseball season in the minor leagues," said Rich Pivoriunas, Owens Head Baseball Coach. "It's great to see Owens Community student-athletes, who are provided opportunities to pursue a college education and within intercollegiate athletics, achieve their dreams both on and off field."
Clark is the second baseball player in Owens history to be selected in the draft. Former Owens pitcher Aaron Franke was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the eighth round of the 1999 baseball draft.
His high school accomplishments in baseball include selection as a two-time Wood County All-Star and three-time All-Midland Athletic League (MAL). He also was named MAL Player-of-the-Year.
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