Freedom Report: A profile of Andy Clark
Nick Dobreff / Florence Freedom
FLORENCE, KY – To pitch is to know that your next pitch could mean the difference between winning and losing.
To pitch is to feel the weight of the game hanging on each delivery and the meticulous nature with which each subsequent throw must be dissected and selected to produce the most anticipated of results.
To pitch is to create art in the midst of chaos, to safely navigate a nine inch sphere from the tips of your fingers into the waiting embrace of your battery mate, all while avoiding the relentless pursuit of the opposition.
To pitch is to live pressure each and every time you step onto the mound.
For many, it’s a role where the physical and mental demands are too great to overcome.
For Freedom pitcher Andy Clark, it’s a role he relishes.
“I love to compete”, says Clark, a native of nearby Louisville. “As a pitcher, each at bat is a battle in the midst of larger competition. My job is to go out and win as many of those little battles as I can to give my team the best chance to win.”
Coming into his third season with the Freedom, Clark was expected to help carry the rotation with the help of fellow third year pitcher Everett Saul. But an injury sustained in June has limited Saul to only 6 starts this season.
As a result, Clark was thrust into the role of team ace, and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s compiled a record of 7-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 13 starts. He leads the team in wins, starters ERA, and strikeouts (64).
And he’s been fantastic of late, going 4-1 in his last 6 starts and allowing 1 earned run or fewer in 6 of his last 7 appearances.
Clark, who went 10-2 in 2008 with a 3.36 ERA in his rookie season with the Freedom, saw his numbers dip last season as he struggled with injuries and compiled a record of 3-4 with a 5.20 ERA.
This season has seen him avoid injuries and he’s on pace to set a career high in wins and ERA.
“Coming into the season I wanted to get back to where my numbers were my rookie year. I’ve always set my goals high and I feel like I have the stuff to be one of the better pitchers in the league.”
Clark says watching and learning from the veterans when he was a rookie has helped him in his role as staff ace and clubhouse leader.
“I’ve always tried to lead by example. I want the [young] guys behind me to watch how I pitch, and set a good example for them”, says Clark. “That’s how I learned when I was a rookie. I watched how the older guys prepared for each start and how they studied hitters. But it’s also important to communicate and be as open you can be. When you’re a younger guy and the veterans go out of their way to talk to you and help you out, it really makes a difference.”
So while you’ll often see Clark chatting and joking with teammates in the clubhouse, he’s all business once he steps onto the field.
“I like to work quick and pound the zone early. I don’t like to throw balls. Working quickly not only helps me and keeps me in a good groove but it also keeps my teammates into it, keeps everybody into it, even the umpires.”
But he’s quick to acknowledge that he needs to work even harder to reach his lofty goals.
“Each year I learn more about pitching. Pitching coach [Pedro] Flores has really helped me a lot with how I attack and work hitters. But I’ve still never played in affiliated ball before so that’s something I’m striving for. I’d love to experience the challenge of facing hitters at that level.”
But pitching for the Freedom has meant a lot to the right-hander from Louisville.
“I love pitching in Florence and for the Freedom. Being born and raised in Louisville, it’s great being close to friends and family who can watch me anytime I pitch.”
And watching their homegrown ace excel is something Freedom fans have come to expect.
“I love pitching with expectations. I expect a lot of myself and I hold myself accountable for everything that happens on that field when I pitch. It feels good to know that your teammates and fans expect to win every time you pitch. I think pressure brings out the best in me.”
Spoken like a true ace.