D-backs veterans to fill leadership role
With loss of Clark, current group of players must fill void
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the past three seasons, whenever one of the young players on the D-backs had a question, they knew to turn to veteran Tony Clark.
"He just had this way about him like he was your grandfather and if you were confused about something, Tony always had the answer," infielder Chad Tracy said. "There is no replacing Tony."
Yet Tracy will be among a group of veterans that includes Eric Byrnes, Orlando Hudson and Chris Snyder that will need to pick up the slack with Clark now being a member of the Padres after departing via free agency.
Clark, who came to Arizona in 2005, immediately took over a leadership role in the clubhouse and was an asset to manager Bob Melvin in helping the club transition from one filled with veterans to a young everyday lineup.
"Orlando and I and Chad, we don't have a ton of time in this game, yet we are the veterans of this team, at least among the position players," Byrnes said. "The best thing that I can do is lead by example. If last year is any indication of how things are going to go in the future with this team, I think everybody is going to be very happy because I've never seen a group of guys play the game as hard as this team does."
That starts at the top with Melvin, who regards himself and his coaches as the ultimate leaders in the clubhouse. But the reigning National League Manager of the Year also realizes that Clark's presence helped keep some issues from even making their way to his office.
Byrnes and company will try to fill that role as best they can. Whether they want to or not.
"I don't have a choice," Byrnes said. "I haven't really grown up myself, so it's tough for me at times because I like goofing around as much as anybody. But I think Orlando and I and Chad have a responsibility to pick up the torch that Tony left us. I think together we can do that. I also think that nobody will ever replace Tony Clark in this clubhouse. He's the best teammate that I've ever had. He's a big loss in this clubhouse. A lot of times we'll have to ask, 'What would Tony say? What would Tony do?' He taught us a lot about how to conduct ourselves on and off the field."
Said Hudson, "There won't be one pinpointed person. One guy may say a few words, another guy might say a few. It's going to be a group thing. It won't be just one person like it was with T.C. [Clark] was the man and he's someone that's going to be missed and is missed already. But we're going to pull together and try to do it like we did last year."
Two years ago, Hudson helped outfielder Chris Young adjust to life in the big leagues when he invited him to live with him after being called up from Triple-A.
Young turned around and did the same thing with then 19-year-old Justin Upton last season.
"Obviously, I only had a year in, but I did have more time than Justin and I had experienced a few more things than Justin had," Young said. "We'll talk to each other about baseball because there are a lot of things that are different between up here and the Minor Leagues."
Examples like that give Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes confidence that Clark's role will be able to be filled by the current group.
"Each season has a new set of challenges," the GM said. "Many players in our clubhouse now have significantly more experience than this time last year. We also acquired three players in the offseason with postseason experience. I'm sure our personality and leadership will evolve and help us deal with this year's challenges."
In that way, Clark's presence will continue to be felt. Even from a few hundred miles away.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.