Aug 09, 2011 | Dan Thompson | 339 views
Kitchener's Clarke Outduels Major League Slugger
It was the biggest showdown of Mitch Clarke’s pitching career. The Kitchener left-hander stood on the mound Monday night and stared down Shin-Soo Choo, a veteran outfielder with Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians.
The $3.9-million slugger was coming off a thumb injury and making his first rehab appearance at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, the Indians’ A-ball affiliate.
Clarke, a starter for the Dayton Dragons, was ready for the duel.
The Cincinnati Reds prospect heard he may clash with the South Korean swatter the night before the game.
“I was a little nervous,” the 20-year-old admitted.
The crowd erupted when Choo entered the batter’s box.
“I just kind of smiled and went right back into game mode and focused right on the glove,” said Clarke.
The veteran quickly fell behind two strikes before Clarke’s fastball caught him looking for the strikeout.
“He was thinking slider and I got him on an outside fastball,” he said. “I went right after him and treated him like any other person. It’s definitely something I won’t forget.”
Choo, who belted 22 dingers in the majors last season, went hitless in two at bats as the Dragons won their third consecutive game. The club holds top spot in the Midwest League’s east division thanks, in part, to Clarke’s success.
The former Forest Heights student was only supposed to make a couple of spot starts for an injured player when he was called up from the Reds’ rookie affiliate in Billings, Montana late last month. Since then, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.33 earned run average over four starts.
“In minor league baseball you might only get one shot and you have to make the most of it,” he said. “I’m doing the best I can.”
Climbing the minor league ranks has not been easy. Clarke spent two years playing rookie ball and hoped to start the season in Single-A Dayton before back spasms impeded his journey.
“It has been a long trek but I’m glad where I’m at now and happy about how I’m doing,” he said.
The Canadian is becoming a fan favourite. And they pack them in at Fifth Third Field. The franchise averages more than 8,000 fans per game and recently set a record for all American sports teams when it sold out its 815th consecutive game.
The club has seen its fair share of talent too. Major-leaguers such as Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Adam Dunn and last year’s National League most valuable player, Joey Votto, have all donned Dragons gear.
“It puts things into perspective,” said Clarke, who was selected in the 19th round of the 2009 draft.
“These guys started here and it’s the stepping stone that they made. It gives you hope and a push that if you work your butt off, you can get to the big leagues too.”