Clark has 'deja vu' returning to PETCO
Veteran has fond memories of short stay with Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Tony Clark walked through the player's entrance at PETCO Park before Monday's game against the Diamondbacks. Problem was, it was the wrong entrance.After spending the first 3 1/2 months with the Padres, Clark, who was traded back to the Diamondbacks just 11 days ago, went into the direction of San Diego's clubhouse out of a recent force of habit. "I happened to be walking with one of the guys who looked up, and I wasn't even paying any attention," Clark said. "I was just strolling, and saw the visitor's clubhouse sign and he turned in and I was like, 'OK, well here's your stop.'" Clark spent the last three seasons with the Diamondbacks before signing a $900,000 contract with the Padres in February. The 36-year-old then waived a $500,000 assignment bonus to go back to first-place Arizona on July 17. Clark said the fact that he knew he was going to receive more playing time in Arizona was a reason he waived his $500,000 assignment bonus from the Padres. That, coupled with the fact that he could go back home and play for a first-place club he had some familiarity with, was an enticing enough offer to opt out of the $500,000. "Being in first place is a bonus, but walking into this locker room and walking into a locker room where just about everybody that's here I knew and played with, from that standpoint the transition was really easy," Clark said. With the Padres, Clark made only one start in the field, hitting .239 with one homer and 11 RBIs in 88 at-bats. Since joining the D-backs, he has already made three starts in that short span and picked up right where he left off in Phoenix, mentoring the younger players and providing a clubhouse presence. "He did here what I'm sure he's doing over there, which is just providing stability in the clubhouse and an excellent pinch-hit option off the bench," said Padres center fielder Jody Gerut. "He'll give you a solid at-bat every time, but mostly he provides experience to an otherwise inexperienced bunch of guys. "Tony Clark has a presence. You know when he's in the room. He's an intelligent guy, he's a caring guy, so he's always very aware of how people are feeling based on where they are in their careers or in the season. He would always provide the right words to get you through a tough stretch." Gerut said that Clark's presence in San Diego is already dearly missed, even though the team has been without him for just one road trip. Clark's locker was just two away from Gerut, who had been using Clark's shower shoes on the Padres' 11-game road trip. "It's kind of weird," Gerut said. "We have a bunch of good guys and we persevere but when someone who does have such a positive influence on you, when that person is suddenly absent, you're going to feel it a little bit." Padres outfielder Scott Hairston, who has played with Clark for parts of the last four seasons with the D-backs and Padres, spoke with the veteran before the game during batting practice. Hairston said that the conversation was "really weird." "It's just weird to see him in that uniform again," Hairston said. "We miss him already over here on this side. He's such a great guy. You can learn a lot from all his experiences. He really means well. He was the type of guy that, if you had a problem playing or just life in general, you could go to him and talk about it." When the Padres were mulling whether to sign Clark in the offseason, Hairston even recommended the first baseman to San Diego's front office. On Clark's first day back with the D-backs, it was clear his teammates noticed his warm personality in the clubhouse. Since his return, the D-backs are 6-4, and players on the team describe a different feeling than in the first half. He has been known not to just be a mentor, but to keep a loose clubhouse. "We've been playing a bit better baseball since he's been back," said D-backs utility infielder Augie Ojeda. "He helps out in a way with his presence that kind of goes unnoticed at times. He keeps the guys loose. If anyone gets out of line, everyone just looks up to him like, 'Hey Tony's here, so you've got to lighten up.'" "It's all out of respect. He's been around a long time. It's the same kind of thing for the pitchers when Randy [Johnson] is around. The environment is more professional and you can just focus more on work. Tony is an example guy. You see him working his butt off every day. He gets here early and he's planning his work out as to what he has to do to get better as a player." Clark expressed absolutely no hard feelings for the Padres. In his only at-bat on Monday night, he received an ovation from the San Diego fans before he grounded into a inning-ending double play in the sixth. "When you spend the amount of times with guys and you go through routines and relationships and then one quick phone call and that's adjusted and changed," Clark said. "It was weird coming back to Arizona even after being there for three years, and it's equally as weird coming back here. "We didn't have the kind of 3 1/2 months that I was here that I was hoping for, but all the while, I had a chance to build some relationships with some guys that I'm sure will continue."
Mike Ritter is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.