WVU’s Clark ready for NCAA tournament | News, Sports, Jobs West Virginia pitcher Derek Clark reacts after a late-inning strikeout

MORGANTOWN — When West Virginia’s Derek Clark takes the mound in the NCAA Tournament that begins Friday afternoon in Tucson, whether it’s in the Mountaineers’ season opener against Dallas Baptist to put them on the board from the winners of the double elimination affair or in Game 2 to either keep their dreams alive or give them an edge in their quest to advance, it will be a far more symbolic walk than you could imagine.

Clark’s baseball career was rocky throughout as he battled one of the sport’s biggest prejudices, that physical size equates to athletic success, and what better way to prove that he is king of the hill than being on top of the hill which is in the center of a baseball field.

He was robbed of that opportunity during the colossal flop that was the 2024 Big 12 Tournament. WVU coach Randy Mazey decided to keep him out of the first two games rather than putting him on rest, even though he had become the Mountaineers’ ace. ‘ pitching staff with a 7-2 record and a 3.28 ERA.

How much that hurt him in the Big 12 tournament is something only he knows and his response when asked about it Monday was politically correct rather than revealing.

“Yeah, it was tough, but I understood where Coach Mazey was coming from, giving me the rest I needed, giving me a full week off. Throwing a short rest against TCU, it ‘is what it is, we just look forward and look forward,’ he said.

Knowing what he’s been through throughout his budding career and knowing that he’s in his final season of college baseball. you can almost feel the drive burning in him, especially since he plays a sport at a pitching position, where they measure you on certain metrics that he doesn’t have.

For scouts, size matters and a 6-5 Alek Manoah is considered a first-round pick, a 97 mph fastball written as an asset, while Derek Clark offers neither the other.

The list lists him at 5-9, he says he is 5-8 and that may be a bit of an exaggeration.

In his mind, though, it’s an asset, even if scouts view it as a negative.

“This just adds fuel to my fire.” You can be 4 feet tall or 7 feet tall and still be successful in this game,” he said. “You just have to trust the process and I have to trust my work ethic and come out on the field every day to get better.”

As proof, he offers former MVP shortstop Jose Altuve, who is just 5-6, or pitcher Marcus Strohman, who is currently 4-2 with the New York Yankees with a 2.76 ERA and a ten-year career ERA of 81. 78 despite a score of 5-7.

What he needs to do is have scouts watch him play rather than read reports about how fast he throws or how fast his curveball spins.

“Looking at myself in the mirror, I know I won’t be a 97-year-old and older man. » he said, speaking in terms of miles per hour. “I’m just doing what I can to get the guys out.”

And there are different ways to do this.

“Changing speeds, changing arm locations, executing throws…trying to be clever and artistic with it” he noted. “There’s more to throwing than throwing hard and throwing with lots of spin.”

At this point you ask him if he knows who Bobby Shantz was and, as you might expect, he doesn’t, even though Shantz’s story offers the best evidence that he is you don’t have to be a physical specimen to succeed on the mound.

In 1952, Shantz was the American League’s Most Valuable Player as a pitcher going 24-7 with a 2.48 ERA. For his career, he finished 119-99 with a 3.38 ERA and has 8 Gold Gloves on his home shelf as one of the best defensive pitchers in history.

And yes, he’s still with us, as the 98-year-old oldest living former – or, for that matter – current major league player.

His story is one Clark can hold on to. At age 6, Shantz fell ill one night and some thought he wouldn’t survive the evening. This may have stunted his growth, as when he entered adolescence he was only 4 feet 4 inches tall and was only 5 feet tall when he entered high school.

He was a good player in high school, but he was an outfielder, his coach saying he was too small to throw and never discovering the wicked curveball he had developed.

Shantz played semi-pro for a while, grew to be 5-foot-6, began throwing, and was eventually signed and shipped.

“It’s just great” Clark said. “Guys like Jose Altuve, Marcus Stroman, doing what they’re doing in today’s game, it shows that I can do it in a few years, hopefully. I’m trying right now not to looking ahead too much, just worrying about playing against Dallas Baptist.

Clark has become the definitive “cunning left-hander” more Shantz than Koufax, more Randy Jones than Steve Carlton.

“I go into a game with a game plan and try to execute it. » he said. “I’m going to attack, compete and do what I can to put the ball in play and get guys out.”

When he’s out there, he’s 10 feet tall.

“The mound is always 60 feet away and the bases are always 90 feet apart, so the height of the player doesn’t really matter,” he reasoned.

Like Shantz, he was not considered a prize coming out of high school, although he set a single-season ERA record at 0.20, in part because of his ability to throw strikes.

“Growing up, being quite small, I was neglected. In high school, I wasn’t the best player in the world. Then I went to Northwood (University of Michigan) and I was still a little underdog and I continued to prove myself, prove myself there.

He went 23-7 with a 3.38 ERA in three years at Northwood before transferring to WVU for his final season. He is now at the end of his college career and he cherishes every chance he gets to prove himself.

“Yes, it means more to me now that I am finishing my college career. It feels like it was yesterday, when I was a freshman and I didn’t know what was going on. Now that I’m a senior and playing my final year, it means more to me to win ball games and just enjoy it.

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