Coming to a new team and into a foreign clubhouse, here is always the promise of an adventure. No, make that more a healthy dose of apprehension.
Players switching teams only have heard good, perhaps negative things about their new employer. At the same time, there can be a sense of exhilaration and a sense of a new beginning. For Diamondbacks’ reliever Tyler Clippard, that may be a little of both.
For various sundry, and perhaps unknown reasons at the time, Clippard was left out in the free agent land for what appeared to be the longest time. When the New York Mets decided not to offer the 31-year-old a contract for the 2016 season, Clippard and his agent began the grueling solicitation process. Not until two weeks before the start of spring training did a team reach out.
When Arizona general manager Dave Stewart made the call and Clippard accepted a two-year deal worth $12 million, the principal reason why Clippard waited so long to sign quickly surfaced. Telling reporters on an initial conference call in early February he wanted to go to a contender, Clippard said his choice was not terribly difficult. Stewart, always looking to solidly the bullpen, made the offer and said depth was added to the pitching staff.
What followed seem to shock Clippard, who is entering his 10th major league season. When he walked into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse for the first time this spring, he found an environment nothing from which he had experienced.
Given the plethora of off-season, high profile moves made by Tony La Russa, the team’s Chief Baseball Officer and Stewart, the optimism and anticipation rose dramatically. Plus, Clippard found a team which improved by 15 games in the standings over the 2014 season, a high-octane offense and a fundamentally sound defense.
“I’ve never seen a team so focused as this one,” he said Tuesday in the clubhouse at Salt River. “Guys are here at 5 in the morning and starting their routine. There’s a great excitement around here and everything is off to a good start. I’m the new kid in here, and so far, so good.”
Earlier in camp, manager Chip Hale indicated that Clippard will be used mainly in the back end of the bullpen. Having started in his rookie year with the Yankees in 2007, Clippard quickly moved the bullpen in Washington the next year, and had stayed there. Comfortable in any inning, he said, his approach to the methodology of a reliever is both cerebral and realistic.
Clippard took time to explain there is little difference between a reliever’s mind set in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning. The ability to make good pitchers and retire hitters in a critical situation remain paramount in any setting in the game.
“A reliever may come in the sixth with a few guys on and end that that threat or rally,” he said. “To us, that’s important, but fans may say, ‘hey, it’s only the sixth, or seventh, and we still have the ninth to go.’”
Clippard indicated a reliever’s role is all about establishing “a particular mind set,” and the reliever’s innate ability to harness energy at any given time. Plus, the capability to know and understand that innings can be interchangeable goes a long way to perfecting the reliever’s craft, he pointed out.
From the start of camp here, Clippard credits veteran Brad Ziegler for a welcome with open arms Noting “Brad did a great job to include me in the bullpen text he has going” to the comfort level among a band of new teammates, Clippard indicates his transition to Sedona Red is seamless.
Last season, the native of New Port Richey, Fla split the year between the A’s and Mets. While the World Series venture with New York was valuable, Clippard comes to the Diamondbacks with 14 games of post-season experience with the Nationals and Mets. At this point, Hale said Clippard will be used in a number of situations, and he could enter the game anyway from the fifth inning going forward.
“So far, he’s been great,” Hale said in reference to Clippard and his role or roles. “This guy has been around for a while, and you can see he wants to be a leader.”
SOME VALUABLE STUFF
The Phoenix Art Museum will feature a specially-ticketed, limited-engagement exhibition of some of the rarest and most important baseball cards in the history of the sport beginning March 9 through April 24. Drawn from the Diamondbacks Collection, carefully and painstakingly amassed by Ken Kendrick, longtime collector and managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, The Ultimate Collection: Iconic Baseball Cards from the Diamondbacks Collection features 16 of the top 20 rated sports trading cards in the entire world, along with an additional 25 highly-valued and prized baseball trading cards. The exhibition will include baseball’s rarest and most famous collectible, a T206 Honus Wagner trading card, once owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.
The roster of cards includes 16 of the 20 rarest and highly prized trading cards in the history of sports. The collection includes Topps rookie cards for Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Mickey Mantle, Henry “Hank” Aaron, and Sandy Koufax. It also includes a rare Bowman 1954 Ted Williams card, along with cards representing some of the most legendary and iconic names in the history of the game, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige, Joe DiMaggio, and Willie Mays. It also includes a single basketball card: a 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan card, considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the NBA.
The Ultimate Collection marks the first time Kendrick’s collection has been exhibited west of the Mississippi, and the first time it has been formally exhibited in its home state of Arizona. Previously, the exhibition was on view at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for three years, before closing in 2013. For information on general admission, visit phxart.org/visit/hours_admission_location.