The phenom of the 1987 San Francisco Giants arrived a year ahead of schedule, but not too early to escape the pranks of the veterans.
During spring training last month in Arizona, he showed up on his 22nd birthday to find that his $400 pair of boots had been painted orange. Welcome to the majors.
Then Friday night at Dodger Stadium came the T-shirts, courtesy of relief pitcher Mark Davis and modeled by equipment manager Mike Murphy. On the shirt was a combination penguin/duck figure wearing a green-and-white-striped tie, and the black lettering on a white background asked: What is a Nuschler?
It, or he, is William Nuschler Clark Jr. of the San Francisco Giants, a.k.a. “Thrill,” by way of Fresno, the U.S. Olympic team, Mississippi State and New Orleans. They know him in Houston, too, after this week’s season-opening series.
But by any name, Will Clark is a great prospect.
Manager Roger Craig has said that Clark already reminds him a bit of Stan Musial, adding that a hitter like this “comes along once every 50 years.” Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson remarked that only Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets is a better fielding first baseman among National Leaguers. There’s also the story of the spring-training game against the Oakland A’s in which Clark hit a 430-foot home run, and San Francisco publicist Duffy Jennings started jumping up and down in the press box and shouting, “Take that, Jose Canseco!”
Craig likes Clark’s attitude, the way he handles the pressure and the media and the high expectations that come with being a big bat on a team that finished last in the league in hitting in 1985. “He will win a Gold Glove, too,” Craig said.
Clark, making his first appearance at Dodger Stadium since batting .429 with three home runs and 8 RBIs in the five-game Olympic competition of 1984, took a .308 average into Friday night’s game and had a positive attitude to match.
“Pressure is something the media wants to hear about,” he said. “I don’t even think about it. I don’t want to put pressure on myself because I don’t think about the negative aspects of the game. I just want to keep hitting the ball well.”
He was doing that much from the start. After Clark spent last season in Class A ball at Fresno, the Giants had planned to move him up to their top minor league team in Phoenix for a while. But Clark won the starting job three games into spring training, Craig said, then was set up with a tutor named Willie McCovey and finished the exhibitions with a .297 average and five home runs.
Next came a 420-foot home run off Houston’s Nolan Ryan in his first major league at-bat. “When he finally hit home plate, it dawned on him.” Craig said of the homer. “He had his parents and family and friends in from New Orleans for the game. He really took his time walking back to the dugout. The players got on him for that.
“He is such a good natural hitter that he should be able to adjust to anything. They keep throwing him breaking balls and off-speed pitches, but he’ll hurt someone soon.”
Said President and General Manager Al Rosen: “Almost from the beginning, there was evidence that he could handle it.”
And what does Clark think of his somewhat surprising spot in the big leagues?
“When I went to spring training, I wasn’t thinking that I would be going back to Phoenix,” he said. “If it happened, OK. Then I would just have to set my mind on getting back to the majors.
“They were bringing me to camp to see how I would react mentally and to see me play every day. I didn’t have any great expectations. I sort of took the theory, ‘I’m here to have fun and relax.’ That’s what I’m doing now, having a good time and relaxing. And things are going great.”
Especially for a Nuschler.