By STEVE KRAH
Kalib Clark has faced obstacles aplenty. But family circumstances, injuries and a pandemic have not stopped him from coming back to the game he loves.
At 24, Clark has gotten into just a handful of regular-season games and his collegiate baseball dream lives on.
After impressing this summer in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League with the Norwich (Conn.) Sea Unicorns, right-handed pitcher Clark has accepted an invitation to pitch at MidAmerica Nazarene University, an NAIA program in Olathe, Kan. The Pioneers are skippered by former Bethel University pitcher and assistant coach Ryan Thompson. Former Taylor University assistant Colton Punches is MNU’s pitching coach. Former Grace College head coach Cam Screeton is an assistant. Former Bethel player Chad Jenkins is sports information director.
How did Clark get to this point?
It’s quite a journey.
Born in Mooresville, Ind., Clark got his organized baseball start at what is now Mooresville Junior Baseball/Softball League. He played travel ball for the Indiana Outlaws (now the Canes Midwest) from 12U to 15U and the Greg Vogt-coached Indiana Bulls during his 16U and 17U summers (Clark was later an intern for Vogt at PRP Baseball). He pitched some at 13 and 14, but was primarily a catcher.
That was Clark’s main position at Plainfield (Ind.) High School, where he was on varsity for four years (2013-16) playing for Jeff McKeon’s Quakers.
“Jeff McKeon is an absolutely great dude,” says Clark. “That guy had my back all four years — no matter what.”
After high school, Clark went to Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Ky. But he only spent a couple of weeks there. In the space of about a year, he lost two grandfathers and a grandmother.
He came back home, enrolled at Ivy Tech and trained with Greg Vogt.
“I have nothing but great things to say about Greg,” says Clark. “I probably would not have got back into pitching if not for Greg.”
Clark spent the next fall with Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz. After the first semester, Clark transferred to Indiana University Kokomo. In his first game with the Cougars, he blew out his Medial Collateral Ligament and also developed a shoulder impingement.
That’s when Clark left IUK and walked away from baseball completely.
Kalib Clark and Kendyl Wheeler had been dating since high school. Kalib followed the former Plainfield softball player to Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he studied and delivered pizzas and she a student-athlete.
On Sept. 5, 2020, the two were married. That same week, Kendyl’s father, Tim Wheeler, passed away from cancer.
All the while Kalib heard the call of baseball.
“Every time I stepped away I just couldn’t stay away,” says Clark. “I had to finish what I started.”
But it would have to be answered in a different way.
“My body can’t handle catching,” says Clark, who turned himself into a pitcher. He trained with Jordan Kraus at T3 Performance in Avon, Ohio (Cross is now at Cressy Sports Performance in Hudson, Mass.).
Clark was recruited by Post University, an NCAA Division II program in Waterbury, Conn.
Because of COVID, no students were allowed on the campus in the fall. Then spring was canceled.
“I put a petition to get the season back,” says Clark. “It didn’t go very well for me.”
When students were allowed back, the Data Analytics Applied Mathematics major got COVID in the spring and could not play.
He began training at home and throwing at The Hit Club, located on the top floor of an abandoned warehouse.
But he had nowhere to play in the summer. The righty went to a FCBL tryout in Brockton, Mass., signed a 10-day contract then a full-season pact for 2021.
In 12 games (all in relief) with the Devin Belenski-coached Sea Unicorns, FCBL all-star selection Clark went 0-1 with three saves and a 3.78 earned run average. In 16 2/3 innings, he struck out 24 and walked 14 with a 1.38 WHIP (walk and hits per innings pitched) and the league hit .158 against him. If not for his last outing when he gave up four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, his numbers would have been even better.
Having entered the transfer portal, Clark received a number of offers. He decided on MidAmerica Nazarene, where he will be allowed to finish his undergraduate degree and begin his graduate certification while continuing to play baseball.
Clark throws a four-seam fastball, slider and change-up with a low three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“My release height is low — about five feet,” says the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Clark. “I’m still over the top.
“The difference between pitching and catching is the slope. As a catcher you’re trying to the ball off as fast as you can. As a pitcher you’re trying to delay throwing the ball as fast as you can. You want to wait until your body gets down the mound then you want to throw hard.”
Clark’s best pitch is his slider, which has been measured at 3100 rpm on Trackman. From a presentation by Rob Friedman aka the Pitching Ninja, he switched the grip on his slider to one used by big leaguer Marcus Stroman, who is 5-8 and 170.
“It’s a splitter with 16 to 18 inches of horizontal run,” says Clark. “My fastball (which sits at 88 to 90 mph) is probably my third-best pitch.”
Before heading to MNU in late August, Clark plans to be in Plainfield and reunited with training partner Daylan Nanny.
During the lockdown in 2020, Clark, Nanny and Cooper Trinkle holed up at Powerhouse in Franklin, bathing in the sink and getting in lots of reps.
“It was baseball 24/7,” says Clark. “Weren’t able to leave except to go to Walmart for a grocery stop and come back.”
Nanny has transferred from Western Carolina University to Indiana State University. Trinkle is at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Kalib is the youngest of trucker driver Brian Clark and elementary school teacher Celeste Clark’s two children. Sister Aerial Clark was Female Athlete of the Year at Center Grove High School, graduated from Indiana University and now works for JP Morgan Chase in Houston.