DonAndre Clark's first swing in the batter's box for the Lincoln Saltdogs was not a pretty one — but he and the Saltdogs have been smiling ever since.
Clark picked up his first hit in that at-bat, but it was not the result that drew the eye of the crowd, it was his approach — a slap hit that has led to comparisons to former major leaguers.
“I get a lot of comparisons to (MLB hitters) Juan Pierre, Ichiro (Suzuki), Kenny Lofton and Mickey Rivers, all the smaller guys,” Clark said. “I just watched tape on them a lot and tried to mold my own style into it.
“I've never been a power guy, so I just try to maintain and stick to my strengths.”
Even after a swing and a miss that almost made Clark dance around home plate, he still smiled about being back in the game of baseball.
Clark played at Saint Mary's in California before being selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 33rd round of the MLB Draft in 2014. He played two seasons of affiliated ball from 2014-15. He spent one year with Idaho Falls in the Rookie League before being assigned to Single-A in Lexington.
Then the waiting game came. Clark was out of affiliated baseball until 2018 in the Pacific League with San Rafael, where he totaled 78 games and 116 hits before joining the Saltdogs this season.
“I hope it can be contagious,” Saltdog hitting coach Tom Carcione said of Clark's smile and play. “He's a kid that's just having fun out there. Some guys in this game take everything so serious.
“He's always smiling and playing hard. I think that brings some energy to your team.”
The smile may seem harmless on the outside, but for Clark, it has a different meaning.
“It's just like a competing thing for me,” Clark said. “It seems like I'm happy — I mean, I am — but I'm not really a fierce or angry person. I'm better when I am upbeat and always smiling. I've always tried to take that into my play.”
Just like Clark's style of batting is a new element for the opposing pitcher, it's a new element for the Saltdogs and Carcione, in his fourth season with the Saltdogs. Lincoln has been one of the best power clubs in the American Association with Carcione as the hitting.
“You've seen our team the last three years. That's usually the type of hitter and the type of player we don't have in our lineup,” Carcione said. “We are pretty much trying to hit doubles or hit the ball over the fence.
“(Clark) just brings that, if you want to call it, energy with that speed and that excitement he can bring on the bases and at the plate. It's a good part to put him in the lineup to change the look at times.”
In 10 games and 32 at-bats for Lincoln this season, Clark had 10 hits with five doubles before Friday's contest against the Texas AirHogs at Haymarket Park.