It’s not often that a 29-year-old, undrafted free agent is added to the 40-man roster for the first time. The Orioles did it last week with Zach Clark.
Clark, who’s been with the organization since Dean Albany signed him as a free agent after his graduation from University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
UMBC isn’t a big baseball school. Two right-handed pitchers, Rick Steirer and Jay Witasick, were drafted in 1977 and 1993 and made it to the majors. Clark is trying to be the third Retriever, but the first undrafted one.
“I didn’t expect to be added. I know they were considering it,” Clark said.
“It’s a step closer to where I want to be. To be in the big leagues, you have to be on the 40-man roster. By putting me on the 40-man roster, they’re showing some confidence in me. It’s reassuring.”
Clark will be 30 next July, and he’s methodically worked his way up the Orioles minor league food chain, spending lots of time in Aberdeen, Delmarva, Frederick and Bowie.
He made it as far as Norfolk in 2008 and made it back in 2010. The last assignment didn’t go well. He was 0-5 in six games, but Clark wasn’t discouraged.
I knew I was getting up in age, but I didn’t think about it. I thought if I pitched well, good things would happen,” Clark said.
Clark is a player who’s caught the eye of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who says he’s “a great human interest story.”
The Delaware native credits Orioles minor league pitching guru Rick Peterson, whose throwing program helped Clark.
“I like routine. It gave me a chance to get into a rhythm,” Clark said.
All the other years, I’d have a good piece of the season, I tried
to do too much and I’d have mixed results.”
Clark spent 2011 at Bowie, where he was 10-9 with a 5.00 ERA. He wasn’t one of those who came to spring training in 2012 on an ad hoc basis when the Orioles were afraid they’d run out of players.
But, he was chosen to pitch for the Orioles in their exhibition game in Norfolk two days before the season opened.
He began 2012 at Bowie with a 10-5 record and a 3.19 ERA. Clark was promoted to Norfolk, where he was 5-2 with a 1.75 ERA. Now, he’ll get his first invitation to spring training.
In Triple-A, Clark faced lots of batters with big league experience.
Even if I failed against the best hitters, I’d think I could do it. It builds confidence if you do it against guys who’ve done it before,” Clark said.
Growing up in Newark, Del., Clark was a Phillies and Braves fan, but as a teenager began to gravitate to the Orioles.
There are lots of young fans who liked the Orioles because of Cal Ripken like Clark did, but he also rooted for Delino DeShields because he was from Delaware, too.
Clark’s mother worked at the University of Delaware, but when he underwent arm surgery after his junior year in high school, the Blue Hens passed on him. He could have walked on, but went to UMBC instead.
He’s enjoyed watching guys he’s played with in the minors have success in the majors, and he enjoyed watching the Orioles do so well.
“It definitely made it a lot more fun. Throughout the organization, it felt different,” Clark said.
He throws a sinker, a two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a change-up and slider. “Your basic ground ball pitcher,” Clark said.
Now, he’s ready for his biggest challenge.
“They say that getting on to the 40-man roster is easy and getting to the big leagues is easy;, staying there is hard. I haven’t experienced that,” Clark said.
“I’ve played six years. My path has been one that’s been a little longer. I feel that I’ve earned that.”