Clark making difference with youngsters
Big switch-hitter impacts community wherever he plays
Tony Clark switched teams in midseason during the 2008 campaign, but his focus on community work remained steadfast.
Granted, the programs he had in place with the Arizona Diamondbacks didn't move with him when he signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres.
"It can be tough, but there are always opportunities to lend your support to things that are going on that fall in line with your interests," said Clark, now a free agent.
What did move with him was his commitment to helping to fund college scholarships for high school students and programs for youth sports, particularly Little League Baseball.
Then again, simply giving his time can be a pretty big asset, too -- and anyone who's spent even the smallest amount of time with Clark knows he's one of the nicest guys around.
"I think one of the most important things is just spending time with kids, usually in group sessions where you get off the beaten path and just sit down and talk for five minutes," the 6-foot-7 first baseman said.
"To say I enjoy it, I think, is an understatement," Clark said. "To have an opportunity to spend time and have the hope of making a difference, even in the life of one child, where you might say something or spend enough time to where that child feels like a difference was made -- even in that short time frame, you never know.
"It's a joy, it's a privilege. To think that a young person is willing to listen to what you have to say because the Lord thought to bless you with the ability to hit a baseball is something we just can't pass up."
Clark's community work is so important that he made it a part of his last contract with the Diamondbacks that certain programs be started or funded.
Not surprisingly, his favorite programs had to do with young people.
There was a ticket program that gave anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 underprivileged kids the chance to come to the ballpark and spend a half-hour with Clark after batting practice. He would answer questions and sign autographs.
He also was involved in a program that awarded scholarships to four high school students every year, each worth $4,000.
"Just give kids who were in high school an opportunity going forward to perhaps start out a step ahead instead of a step behind," Clark said.
"We also had essay contests on a few different levels in which the winners of those essay contests had a chance to come out and enjoy a night in the owner's suite. Again, we'd sit down and talk. It was a reward for their commitment in the classroom."
Clark also looked after the military, particularly by providing game tickets to families of servicemen who were on deployment. And he helped sponsor a program that would allow law enforcement officers and firefighters, plus a guest, to come to games for free.
Since Clark lives in the Phoenix area in the offseason, he continues to do charity work there.
A former high school and college basketball star, Clark is an assistant boys basketball coach at Phoenix's Northwest Christian, which won the Arizona Class 2A state championship in March. His wife is the girls' varsity coach at the school.
Being around kids so much is one reason why Clark believes charitable work is important.
"We have an opportunity as professional athletes, whether we want it or not, to make a difference, if for no other reason than we can hit a baseball, or shoot a basketball, or throw a football, in a community and in an atmosphere that is void of role models," he said. "It is all the more important that we take the platform that we have and work toward making a difference with young people."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.