My Dad and I play in the Diamond Dream Foundation charity golf tournament every year (held this year on Monday September 17th) and this year we had the fortune of being paired up with none other than Nationals closer Tyler Clippard.
Clippard is a pretty darn good golfer. As we found out, he’s been playing since age 9 and lettered in both golf and baseball in high school (in Florida, golf is a fall sport while baseball is a spring sport, unlike here, so he was able to pursue both sports all the way through high school). He routinely bombed his drives 310 or so, utilizing a nice draw most of the time. He could shape his shots on the course nicely (hitting mostly draws but employing a couple of fade shots as needed) and could control the trajectory of his drives based on the wind. I’d guess he’s somewhere around a 4-5 handicap right now (its really hard to get a read on his mid-iron and short game when you’re chipping off of mud all day). For what it was worth, he said his older brother was a far better golfer than he, so the golfing bug runs in the family.
We asked Clippard all sorts of questions over the course of the day (it was a slow round so we were on the course nearly 6 hours). Here’s some highlights:
- We expressed some surprise that he showed up at all; apparently the Nats plane didn’t get back from Atlanta til 2am and he didn’t get to sleep til 4am after the Sunday Braves-Nationals game was moved to be the National 8pm game. Clippard said that he plays golf on all his off-days, so he was going to show up no matter what.
- He says the team isn’t worried about who they may play in the playoffs at all. They are confident in their abilities and know they can hang with any team that they may face.
- He gave us his pro history, talking about the various stops he had in the Yankees organization prior to getting traded here. He saw the entire Yankees system, from rookie all the way to AAA ball, with stops in Charleston, SC, Trenton and then Scranton for AAA. He said that Battle Creek, Michigan (his Short-A stop) was an “interesting” place to play, to say the least. I didn’t realize this, but he really rose quickly through the minors, debuting as a starter for the Yankees at age 22.
- He talked about the trade to the Nats; basically he was very grateful for the trade because he was “falling behind” some of the more well-known names in the Yankees organization (Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlin and the like) and he knew he’d be getting a better shot in Washington. It was almost immediately after he arrived in DC that he got converted to a reliever (we didn’t talk about the conversion really, he just said something that I’ve always said; “All relievers are failed starters.”).
- He told us why he signed out of high school despite being just a 9th round pick; He grew up in Tampa (I forgot to ask him if he knew some of the guys that come out of the famous Tampa HS Hillsborough) and had committed to USF, which is in Tampa, and the Yankees rookie league team is based in Tampa, so he’d have been playing baseball in Tampa whether he went to college or played pro, so he decided to play Pro. By total luck of the draw, his rookie league, his spring trainings and his high-A teams were all based in his hometown, meaning he could live at home to play pro ball.
- He spoke very highly about new Nats reliever Christian Garcia, having played with him in the Yankees organization. After two Tommy John surgeries and a knee surgery, Clippard says its fantastic to see Garcia getting a shot at the majors. He has “electric” stuff, always has, but has never been healthy consistently enough to get his shot.
- I asked him about reliever usage vis-a-vis highest leverage situations versus being the closer, and which he preferred. Unequivocally he said he’d rather be the closer. Simply put, baseball teams value the closer and the “Save” over the 8th-inning guy and the “Hold,” and he’s at a critical position in his career earnings-wise (he’s entering his 2nd Arbitration year) for him to be having such a fantastic statistical year. We didn’t talk money, but per Cot’s he’s at 1.65M this year and you’d have to think he’s getting a significant raise this coming off-season. Some back-of-the-envelope comparables; Chad Cordero earned $4.1M and $6.2M his first two arbitration seasons, putting his FA market value somewhere right around $10M a year. Clippard’s stats aren’t as good as last year’s, when he was historically tough, but he’s still comparable to the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, who’s earning $13M a year. I’d guess Clippard could jump up to the $4M/year range easily in arbitration this coming off-season, assuming his agents put his valuation somewhere between $10M and the $13M that Papelbon got.
- The funniest thing we learned; Clippard lives in Capitol Hill (kind of in the “hood” he joked) and that most of the time he BIKES to the stadium. Along DC streets. Which implies that he’s biking home after the games, sometimes at midnight. He laughed about it, saying that nobody knows who he is and he’s just some random dude biking around the city late at night.
Our golfing team, on the strength of Clippard’s length and some great short-game contributions from the whole group, powered its way through the Army-Navy course to a team -16, good for a tie for 3rd on the day. Our downfall was parring two par-5s; on both occasions both of our big hitters missed the fairway with drives and had to rely on metal wood second shots from much further back. The course was not in the best of shape, so any chip around the green was basically off of mud, and everyone struggled to put up-and-down chances close to the hole. We putted fantastically on the day though, draining several very long birdie puts and even getting a chip-in for eagle from my dad.
All, in all, a great day of golf, and a great time hanging with Clippard. He’s a great guy and I couldn’t say enough nice things about the guy.
ps: I hate approaching ballplayers to sign stuff, but I had to get Clippard to sign something fun after playing with him all day. We’re expecting a son in mid-to-late October, so here’s a shot of Clippard’s signature to my yet-to-be-born kid. :-)
The inscription, in case you can’t read it, is addressed to my son and reads “I hope to pitch against you one day! Tyler Clippard.” Awesome. That’ll sit in my kid’s nursery for a while.