When one thinks of people from the Midwest, a couple of few characteristics come to mind: hard working, dedicated, blue-collar. These are the qualities that the Milwaukee Brewers built their baseball team on as well, looking to replicate the life of the people who live in the upper Midwest. It was this model that helped the team reach the World Series in 1982 as the “The Brew Crew.”
While the organization wants talented ballplayers, they also want character guys who are dedicated to hard work. Talent can only get a player so far, making hard work the determining factor that separates a Major Leaguer from a guy who doesn’t go beyond AA. This is why no one should have any doubt about the future prospects for Helena Brewers outfielder Zach Clark.
Learning to Love Baseball
Zach Clark was born in Hammond, LA, the middle child in a family that has two girls as well. His parents introduced him to baseball when he was about three, but Zach did not find the sport to be too appealing at first.
“My parents first put me into baseball when I was just a little thing. I didn’t really like it much at first, because you’re a little kid and you’re really more concerned with playing in the grass in the outfield than actually playing an actual sport.”
Eventually, he grew to enjoy playing baseball, but football became his first love. However, over time he began to appreciate baseball more as it gave him the opportunity to be on the field a lot more than football offered.
“I actually liked football a little more than baseball. When I got the high school, baseball was what I did all year round and I just kind of loved doing it all the time. Football you only play eight or 10 games a year, but baseball I get to play all the time.”
Zach starred in both sports at Springfield High School. He was the Livingston Parish Athlete of the Year in football his senior season, earning two letters on the gridiron. He was performing well, but it was on the diamond where he really was creating his resume.
Clark earned four letters in baseball and hit .538 in his junior season, earning All-District, All-Parish, and All-State honors. Coming out of high school he was ranked as the sixth best infielder in the state, despite the fact that he had to sit out his senior season because of injury.
Giving It the Old College Try
After a successful high school career, Zach Clark moved onto college where he played a season at Southeastern Louisiana University. His freshman season he would see limited action, appearing in just 10 games, but still thrived in the classroom, earning Southland Conference Academic Honor Roll Honors.
The next season, Zach moved to Pearl River Community College, where he starred for the Wildcats. He led the team in several categories, including average (.350), home runs (11), RBI (37), and runs scored (39). He also stole 24-bases to lead the team, proving to be five-tool player. The 6-2, 200-pound infielder could play any position and had a good enough arm to pitch as well. That led the University of Alabama to get him to sign a letter of intent to join the Tide, but Zach had other ideas in mind.
Time to Join the Brew Crew
Following his sophomore season, Zach Clark looked like he would be saying “Roll Tide,” but he was selected in the 19th round of the MLB draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and opted, instead, to sign with the team. It was a lifetime dream coming to fruition.
“It was a dream come true. It’s always something you just work for as a kid, and then it’s like a dream that becomes a reality. It’s one of the best days of your life. All your hard work kind of pays off, and you get to start the journey toward becoming a big leaguer.”
He also found that being a member of the Brewers organization was exactly what he was looking for. They were the epitome of how his father had lived his life.
“My dad and I were always kind of Brewers fans because they were always kind of like a blue-collar type organization. Me and my dad have always been Brewers and Cardinals fans and love different teams like that. It was really cool to be drafted by them, by one of the classiest places like that.”
He was sent to the Arizona Rookie League in 2016, where he appeared in 30-games, hitting .252 with 2-homers and 16-RBI. He also showed much of that five-tool skill that made him a hot commodity, stealing 6-bases and recording 12-extra base hits.
The Brewers also decided to make him an outfielder permanently, and his skill and speed made the position change a natural fit. Zach made just 1-error and had 2-assists, a solid beginning to his professional career.
The 2017 season began with Zach moving to the Helena Brewers in the Pioneer League. While still in rookie ball, he has already found the league to be a lot more enjoyable than his previous stops.
“Ever since I’ve been in pro ball all I’ve ever known has been from Arizona, Spring Training to AZL (Arizona League), so it’s pretty sweet that you get up here in the mountains and get to play in front of some fans. It actually feels like it’s real baseball and it’s kind of sick.”
The Brewers outfielder started out slow this season, hitting just .105 through the first five games of the season. However, since then, Zach has been on fire. He currently has a nine-game hitting streak that has raised his average to .309. The streak has seen him drive in 15-runs and score 11-runs during that span. That has included a 4-hit game on June 29, a 4-RBI game on June 28, and a span where he drove in 12-runs in 4-games (June 27-30). It has been quite a run, but not one that Zach is gloated about. “Ya, I guess I have been doing a little something at the plate,” he explains.
Staying Down to Earth
It may seem like Zach Clark is just trying to be modest, but the truth is that he understands that this is a game that can turn on you quickly. “Even when you are rolling, I try not to walk into the clubhouse with a big head. The game will humble you pretty quick if you let it.”
It is the mental side of the game that the Helena outfielder is still working on adapting to. While a player can have a great deal of success relying on talent alone, it takes the right kind of mental approach to reach the highest levels. Zach has found an approach that is really helping him to overcome those times when the game is looking to keep him humble.
“I think that’s one of the biggest struggles when it comes to baseball. Sometimes the mental side of it is harder than actually playing the game. I guess the thing is that when I’m in a slump and I’m away from the field I just try to relax and not really think of the baseball aspect of the thing. Because if I’m slumping and I’m thinking about it and taking it from the clubhouse to home with me, I’m just kind of stressed out about it the whole time. That’s gonna make it tough to have confidence to go out and take on these four at bats and be productive.”
Hard Work Paying Off
The Helena Brewers are 14-games into their season and Zach Clark has already scored 15-runs and driven in 15 more. He has shown power, hitting 3-homers in 55-at-bats, and has also stolen 5-bases. An impressive start that will likely see him moving up in the Brewers organization in the real near future.
Zach has a great deal of talent that will likely lead him to the highest levels of professional baseball, but what separates him from many is his work ethic. The Brewers prospect has committed himself to pushing his body to its limits, ensuring that no one is going to outwork him. It’s an ethos that he learned from the two most influential people in his life.
“My parents work so hard. My dad is the hardest working person I think I’ve ever known. The stuff that that guy has done for us, it’s kinda crazy. There are many days where he worked 16 hours a day for weeks on end; that’s crazy man. That’s like only eight hours where you get to sleep and eat. Just watching him, he taught me how to think that you can’t really get many places in this world if you don’t know how to work or have a work ethic. Him and my mom worked for everything we had. I owe it all to them.”
Zach Clark may only be 58-games into his professional career, but he has already proven to have the right kind of commitment to success and hard work that will make the future for the “Brew Crew” a real bright one. Looking back 15 years from now it would not be a surprise to hear people mention Zach Clark with names like Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, and Paul Molitor. The new Mount Rushmore of Brewer greats.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA