Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nationals executive Roy Clark no stranger to playoffs

Assistant GM Roy Clark, a longtime Atlanta Braves scout who starred at Ferrum and Martinsville, helped build the team that's clinched the NL East.

Washington right fielder Jayson Werth (center) celebrates with teammates Monday after the Nationals clinched the NL East championship, the city's first title since 1933.

Associated Press

Washington right fielder Jayson Werth (center) celebrates with teammates Monday after the Nationals clinched the NL East championship, the city's first title since 1933.

Roy Clark

Roy Clark

A baseball team in the nation's capital is headed to the playoffs for the first time in 79 years.

Roy Clark's playoff drought wasn't that long, but he's glad his is over too.

Clark, a Martinsville High School and Ferrum graduate, is the assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals, who clinched the National League East title Monday, will be the first Washington baseball team in the postseason since the 1933 Washington Senators.

"We're just getting started. This [playoff bid] is not a one-year deal," Clark said in a phone interview. "Hopefully this is something that we'll be talking about every year.

"This is a lot of fun. This is what it's all about. I'm just happy to be going to the dance."

As a scout and executive with the Atlanta Braves, Clark was part of that organization when it made the playoffs 14 times in 15 years from 1991 through 2005.

"You take it for granted until it's no longer there, so I'm really enjoying being back in the playoffs," he said. "If we get the right guys hot at the right time, we've got a very high ceiling."

Clark, 54, stepped down as scouting director of the Braves in October 2009 to join the Nationals.

"This year at Washington reminds me so much of 1991, that first year when we made that run in Atlanta," said Clark, whose team clinched a playoff bid Sept. 20. "Hopefully we can sustain it here like we did there."

When the season began, few expected that the Nationals would make the playoffs. This will be the first time the team has even finished with a winning record in its eight years in Washington.

But Clark said he is not surprised.

"They did pretty much the same thing that we did in Atlanta, and that is build the system through a strong scouting and player development system," he said. "And on top of that, they brought in some other quality pieces like Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez.

"I would've never left Atlanta if I didn't think we were going to be successful."

The Nationals traded for Gonzalez last December. He is a top contender for the NL Cy Young Award.

"Once we made the Gio Gonzalez trade, I think that kind of stepped everything up a year," said Clark, a member of the Ferrum Hall of Fame. "Once that trade was made, all of a sudden, we as a group said, 'You know what? We can do this now.'"

As a shortstop at Martinsville High School, Clark played alongside a third baseman named Lou Whitaker, who went on to become a star with the Detroit Tigers.

Clark became an All-American at what was then Ferrum Junior College.

After moving on to the University of North Carolina, Clark played in the Seattle Mariners' organization. He advanced to the Triple-A level before becoming a minor league coach and a scout.

He worked for the Braves for 20 years. Atlanta promoted him to scouting director in 1999.

Although he has changed teams, Clark still lives in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Ga. He said his home office features two computers, a fax machine, an iPad, an iPhone and "telephones coming out of everywhere."

Clark doesn't work out of the Nationals' headquarters because he still does a lot of traveling to scout high school, college and international players. Another reason he has remained in Marietta is because the Atlanta area is home to many summer tournaments for the nation's top high school players.

The Braves have clinched a wild-card berth, so Clark has spent the past week or so scouting that team in case Washington faces Atlanta in the postseason.

As a scouting director, Clark was in charge of drafts that brought the Braves the likes of Brian McCann, Kris Medlin, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson.

"I root for them when we're not playing them," Clark said. "It's very tough for me to root against the same guys that got me promoted. So they're still my kids. I'm proud they're in the playoffs."

Clark was still with the Braves when he first saw current Nationals star Bryce Harper, then a 14-year-old catcher playing in an 18-and-under summer tournament.

In Clark's first draft with the Nationals, Washington took Harper with the first overall pick in 2010.

"There was no doubt in my mind he was the guy we needed to select," Clark said. "Our whole organization, there was no question he was the one."

The Nationals will have to win in the playoffs without Stephen Strasburg. The team put an end to the pitcher's season last month out of concern for his surgically-repaired right arm.

Clark said he is comfortable with the controversial decision.

"We've got a lot of research, 50-some pages," he said. "Everybody was on the same page before the season started."

Clark said he does not aspire to become a general manager.

"I figured out a long time ago I was allergic to starch. I'm not a shirt-and-tie type of guy," he said. "I'm the same guy I was at Ferrum College - just an old country boy that loves the game and wants to be the best at what I do."

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