The Dodgers received a jolt on the eve of opening day, learning batting instructor Jack Clark was seriously injured Sunday while riding his motorcycle to a team workout at Bank One Ballpark.
Clark, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered deep cuts on his head and broken ribs after being involved in a three-vehicle accident on Interstate 10, heading toward the downtown ballpark to help the Dodgers prepare for today’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The four-time All-Star was rushed to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, where he underwent tests and had staples inserted to close head wounds before being transferred to intensive care. He was listed in stable condition Sunday night.
The Dodgers were hopeful Clark would return to the bench soon, but optimism quickly turned to doubt as the extent of his injuries became clearer. Jessica Beck, Clark’s longtime girlfriend, said the recovery process “is definitely going to take awhile because of everything he’s gone through, but the important thing is that he’s going to be OK eventually.”
Coach Manny Mota, who works closely with Clark, will assume batting instructing duties. Bob Mariano, roving minor league batting instructor, lives in the Phoenix area and will assist Mota during the opening three-game series.
The Dodgers’ enthusiasm about beginning the season was replaced with sadness, pushing baseball into the background.
“We’re like family here, we’re with these people as a group more than we are with our families for about a seven-, eight-month period, and a lot of the [baseball] stuff going on today was pretty irrelevant,” said General Manager Dan Evans, who led a contingent of club officials, including Manager Jim Tracy, to visit Clark at the hospital after the workout.
“As we continued to get word throughout the day, my concern got greater and greater, simply because it was clear it wasn’t just a minor thing. He’s had some serious things go on, but it doesn’t look like he’s in jeopardy life-wise, and that to us is the most important thing.”
Clark, whose off-season home is in the Phoenix area, was traveling east on the freeway when the accident occurred at 11:31 a.m., according to Steve Volden, spokesman for the Arizona department of public safety. A minivan hit a small car, sending the car into Clark’s motorcycle, which he was riding for the first time. Under Arizona law, Clark, 47, was not required to wear a helmet, Volden said.
“It was a brand new bike, he had just bought it, and I dropped him off to pick it up,” Beck said. “He was so happy and he was heading to the [ballpark], so I just couldn’t believe this was happening. They stapled his head without Novocain and he didn’t say a word, not even a ‘Boo.’ Everyone said how brave and strong he is, but you can’t hit your head like that on the freeway and not be seriously hurt.
“He was coherent at the hospital, and he actually described what happened to me. He said that there was an accident in the fast lane, he was in the slow lane and the car hit him. He knew that he had been in an accident, so we thought that was a good sign. He’s got some broken ribs, he’s going to be in a lot of pain and it’s not going to be easy, but thank God it wasn’t much worse.”
Shawn Green, among many players to visit Clark, was saddened by the coach’s condition.
“To be honest about it, he’s really banged up pretty bad,” Green said. “He’s such a great guy who’s always willing to help out anyone in need, so it was kind of strange to see him in a reversal of roles to where he needs help. It was difficult.”
The tight-knit coaching staff took the news especially hard.
“First, I thought it was a couple of stitches, then I hear about broken ribs and everything else,” bench coach Jim Riggleman said. “I thought we were talking about something where he would be at work [today], and now it’s sounding like this is very serious. I can’t even put into words how I feel about it, because I’m shocked by the difference in the information from what we first heard.”
In 1997, Mota filled in for batting instructor Reggie Smith, sidelined because of a pinched nerve in his neck. But Mota said this assignment would be more difficult because of the circumstances.
“To me, Jack is like a brother,” said Mota, who has filled many roles in a 24-year coaching career with the club. “We get along very well and he’s like part of my family. I would like to see him back as soon as possible. I’ll pray for Jack and he’s in my thoughts right now, and nothing else really matters.”