Clark's return to Arkansas only Natural.
THE FIRST PHONE CALL WENT to Cody Clark's mom.
No, wait. It went to his brother. Or was it his mom after all?
Clark is a little hazy on the details now, but the Fayetteville native remembers trying to get the word out as quick as he could after learning he would be assigned to play for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Whoever received the first call, there were plenty more to follow.
It was the day before spring training ended when the veteran catcher learned he'd caught on with the AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Clark, who lived his first 21 years in Fayetteville and played for the Arkansas Razorbacks, was ecstatic.
"I was happy to be coming home, I know that," Clark said. "I called my brother. I called my parents. I called a bunch of people. My family hasn't gotten to see me play a whole lot of professional baseball. This gives them a chance to see me pretty much all season. Any of our guys would love that."
Minor league baseball often forces a terribly nomadic lifestyle.
Clark's first five seasons as a pro are a great example. He's played in Washington, Iowa, Georgia, Delaware and Nebraska since being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 11th round of the 2003 draft.
Never did he expect to be playing for a AA team located no more than 15 minutes from where he grew up. Clark, 27, even played his first two seasons of college baseball in Fayetteville before his father left the Razorbacks staff to take over at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Clark, who wrapped tip his college career at Wichita State now lists Conway as his hometown.
Because of his history, Clark understands the budding Texas League rivalry between the Naturals and the Arkansas Travelers as well as anybody. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder is anxious to see how it develops.
"You don't get that with anything else in Arkansas," Clark said. "This is a true in-state rivalry. I think that a good healthy rivalry should develop. It ought to be fun. You're talking about two minor league teams three hours from each other."
Clark brings more than a healthy knowledge of Arkansas geography to the Naturals.
Manager Brian Poldberg said Clark's experience and leadership capabilities are critical to the team's success. There are four pitchers in the Naturals rotation with no AA experience, so Clark has been a calming influence in the games and in the clubhouse.
"He knows what it takes to go out every day and play," Poldberg said. "He can help the younger pitchers through some tough spots. We've got four starters that have never pitched in AA before. Their learning curve is shortened when the pitcher has a good relationship with the catcher."
Clark earned the respect of Poldberg and his teammates early in the season. Despite beginning the year on the disabled list, Clark was at the ballpark every day working and setting an example.
"All anyone can ask for is an opportunity," Clark said. "I've got it and want to make the most of it. It's been a fun ride. I've still got a uniform on, so I'm happy."
Now that Clark is back home, plenty of family and friends can share the experience with him.
CODY CLARK Catcher
NT/WT 6-2, 21.5
COLLEGE EXPERIENCE Arkansas/Wichita State
YEARS PRO 6
NOTABLE Clark has played in every level of minor league baseball from independent leagues to AAA.... He was the 2005 postseason MVP for the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the Golden Baseball League.... Drafted in the 11th round of 2003 MLB draft.... Played from 2001-02 at Arkansas; transferred to Wichita State for final college season.
STATE'S TWO PRO TEAMS MAKE NATURAL RIVALS
Northwest Arkansas Natural catcher Cody Clark understands the budding rivalry between the state's two Texas League teams as well as anybody. Clark grew up in Fayetteville but now calls Conway home in the offseason. He and the Naturals have 24 regular season games remaining with the Arkansas Travelers from May through August. Here's a look at May series dates between the two franchises.
DATE TIME LOCATION May 16 7:10 p.m. Dickey-Stephens Park (NLR) May 17 7:10 p.m. Dickey-Stephens Park (NLR) May 18 2 p. m. Dickey-Stephens Park (NLR) May 19 7:10 p.m. Dickey-Stephens Park (NLR)