It’s been a busy June in Jim and Monica Clark’s house in Riverside California. They spent a week with one of their four daughters welcoming their first grandson into the world, and then turned their attention to their son Gabriel, who after completing his junior year at Oregon State, was eligible for the Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
Monica was at work at home Riverside, trying her best to work around her office “no streaming” policy while following the draft tracker on Twitter. A thousand miles away in Corvalis Oregon, Gabe Clark was nervously trying to get through a morning workout. He was watching twitter as well, watching for his name, names of teammates, high school buddies, and familiar friends from around the country. Three teammates had already gone in the draft when the Minnesota twins called. After some discussion with the Twins staff, Gabe kept careful watch until finally he couldn’t take any more. It was lunchtime, the draft was on a break, and he had an afternoon final to write – his last as a college junior. At lunch with friends he watched the draft for a while, but got sick of staring at it and put his phone away. Then his phone started to go off.
“I got a text message from a buddy that said congratulations, and I turned to my roommate and said ‘Guys, I think I just got drafted’. It finally popped up on everyone’s tracker screen and we got pretty excited. It was pretty cool” recalls Gabe. “Right after, I texted my parents and had to turn my phone off and go to study hall. I knew I just had to focus and get through the final before I got into celebration mode”.
Monica heard her phone go off, and saw a message from her son. “Hey Mom and Dad… I just got drafted” it said. Monica had been watching the tracker and hadn’t seen anything come across. She was half way through responding asking what he was talking about when her husband Jim responded with “Congratulations son, that’s great news”. Monica refreshed the draft tracker again, and up came Gabe’s face. Twitter confirmed it – he had been selected in the 26th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Being drafted is one thing, but making the decision to sign or go back to college is a big decision. With one more year to go before graduating, the draw to stay in school is huge. “It was his decision to make” says Monica. “I talked to him about sticking it out and throwing the dice next year in the draft, but told him that was just my opinion. Our number one priority was that whatever he decided to do, we needed him to be able to finish his schooling”.
The reality is that very few players drafted that late in the draft ever see the bright lights of the Major Leagues, and a backup plan is something a player needs – but when it’s your dream, your passion, how do you pass up the chance to prove you can do it?
Gabe however, got himself into a position that fits with both plans. “I talked to the scouts a lot. My main goal was to get the rest of my schooling paid for. If I could do that, then I would sign. When they agreed they could do that, so I said I’d go. I really wanted to play baseball, that’s what I do. They call you a student athlete, but I always put the athlete part first”.
It’s been a quick rise to the draft for Clark. As a freshman in 2013, he started only seven games, hitting a meager .161. “I remember my first scrimmage at OSU. I had an at-bat against a former All-American and the first pitch he threw me was a 93 mile an hour fastball, then he threw me two curve balls in the dirt and I swung at both of them. At the time it was the best curveball I had ever seen. Then another All American gets up there, the pitcher throws him the curve ball, and he hits a bomb. I’m thinking wow, what have I gotten myself into?”
Clark spent the summer in Corvalis with the Knights, and then in his second year at OSU he played in 50 games and hit .280 with 1 home run. The summer of 2014 in Victoria saw him emerge as a league star – he hit 8 home runs, and batted .290, and won the WCL All Star home run derby.
“Victoria was a chance for me to get away from the coaching staff at OSU, they are always making adjustments with me, and it was a time for me to branch off and try some new ideas. Things worked out great, and I loved Victoria”.
The 2015 college season at OSU wasn’t a great one for Gabe Clark. He struggled with his average and found himself out of the lineup for long stretches, in need of some retooling. “As you go on, you just make adjustments as good hitters do, and I was lucky enough to make some adjustments here and there and find myself in the draft”.
It’s the tough times like these that Gabe has had in his college career that will set him up for success as he moves forward with his career. “I’ve experienced some failures in my college career. I feel that I’ll be able to overcome faster where some of the high school kids that got drafted or some of the early round picks – who were always the best guys in college – once something happens to them they might not know what to do. I’ll have the experience to overcome and get things rolling again”.
Where does Gabe see himself in five years? “I’m taking it one day at a time right now. I just want to get playing again. In five years, I hope I’ve moved up quite a bit. If I’m not playing in the show, I’m close to it. If not, I’ve got my schooling and I can always go finish that”.
Gabe is currently in a holding pattern while he waits for assignment within the Jays organization. He was late getting to Dunedin while he completed some school commitments, and many of the early round picks had already been assigned. Team conditioning staff and scouts are working to evaluate and place him with a team, something he hopes will happen this week. Options are the Jays Rookie League affiliate in Bluefield West Virginia, or to ship him up to Vancouver to play with the Short Season-A Canadians – a move Gabe would welcome in a heartbeat. “Vancouver would be ideal. I hope that’s where I end up, but anywhere would be fine right now, as long as it’s on the field”.
As for Victoria, Gabe has nothing but fond memories. “I miss it and I really wish I would have been able to come back if things had worked out that way. I’ll be back for a visit sometime soon”. Gabe’s parents feel the same “We had a trip planned for July to watch the HarbourCats and then follow them back home. It’s not a cancelled trip, just postponed” says Monica.
Both Gabe and Monica watched Saturday’s Blue Jays game with interest as Matt Boyd – who pitched at OSU in 2013 – made the start for Toronto. “I’m flipping out” says Monica “Two years ago that kid is on the mound in Oregon, now he’s starting for the Jays”. Jim has already traded in his black and orange OSU cap for a Blue Jays cap, and Gabe is impressed.
Right now for Gabe it’s about getting back on the field and proving he can compete at the next level – to both Blue Jays personnel, and himself. If passion, work ethic, and solid family support count for anything, he’ll do exactly that – and he’ll have the same impact on them that he had on us HarbourCat fans. And we knew him when…