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Will Clark

Will Clark hit a home run in his first major league at bat off a pitch from future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Will Clark

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Will Clark. Clark, Will (Photographer)

Very few professional baseball players can say that they hit the very first pitch they were thrown into the seats for a home run, but New Orleans native Will Clark achieved this feat not once, but twice. In 1985, just two days after signing with the San Francisco Giants, Clark had his first professional at-bat for the minor-league Fresno Giants and sent the first pitch he saw approximately 420 feet into the bleachers for a home run. Then on April 8, 1986, in his major-league debut with the San Francisco Giants against the Houston Astros, Clark deposited the first pitch from future Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan into the center field seats for his first major-league home run. Clark went on to a stellar fifteen-year career as a major-league first baseman.

Born on March 13, 1964, William Nuschler “Will” Clark Jr. became a standout athlete at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.  While enrolled at Mississippi State University, he became an All-American and won the 1985 Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the country’s top amateur baseball player. As a student at Mississippi State, Clark played a starring role on the 1984 US Olympic baseball team, which included future major leaguers Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire. During the five-game Olympic tournament, Clark batted .429 with three home runs and eight runs batted in (RBIs).

Known as “Will the Thrill,” Clark finished his rookie season in San Francisco with a .287 batting average and eleven home runs, despite missing forty-seven games with an elbow injury from a mid-season baserunning collision. Over the next fourteen seasons Clark would establish himself as one of the premier first baseman in the major leagues, with the Giants (1986–1993), the Texas Rangers (1994–1998), the Baltimore Orioles (1999–2000), and the St. Louis Cardinals (2000).

In 1989 he was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series, propelling the Giants to their first World Series appearance in twenty-seven years. Minutes before the scheduled start of the third game of that World Series, Clark was standing in the outfield at Candlestick Park when the San Francisco, California, area was struck by a major earthquake. “All of a sudden, I heard a noise like F-15s flying over,” Clark recalled to the Times-Picayune newspaper twenty years later. “It came rolling in then, after the sound, and you could see the light standards looking like they might fall any second.” Measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, the Loma Prieta earthquake killed 63 people, injured more than 3,750, and left thousands homeless, and the World Series was postponed for ten days.

Clark was a six-time All-Star and won the Silver Slugger Award in 1989 and 1991, along with a Golden Glove Award in 1991. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame (2006), the Greater New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame (2007), and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (2008).