PULASKI, Va. – He notched 32 wins, captured the East Division Championship and reached the Appalachian League championship game in his first season as the manager of the Pulaski River Turtles.
It’s no wonder Clark Crist can’t wait to get back in the game.
“I’m excited to get back to Pulaski,” exclaims Crist, who is returning to manage the River Turtles following a successful 2021 season. “Last season was such a positive experience for me, from working with the front office, to the players, to my coaching staff. To be able to complete that experience with a division title and a championship game -- you couldn’t ask for much more than that.”
With a decorated baseball career spanning more than four decades, Crist boasted an arsenal of experience entering his first year in the Appalachian League. The Tucson, Ariz., native’s playing career included a collegiate national championship as the starting shortstop for the 1980 University of Arizona team. Drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 14th round of the 1980 MLB Draft, Crist spent four seasons in Minor League Baseball, eventually serving as a player-coach for the Mariners' Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, from 1982-85.
Crist’s Major League tenure included scouting roles for the Houston Astros (1985-92), Boston Red Sox (1992-94), Cleveland Indians (1994-95), New York Mets (1995-97), St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2006) and the Cincinnati Reds (2006-15). Crist oversaw the signing of many notable names during his career as an MLB scout, including All-Stars Kenny Lofton and Albert Pujols, Covelli “Coco” Crisp, Mike Leake, Tommy Pham, Chris Duncan and Amir Garrett.
Crist’s experience was on display early on as he navigated a turbulent start to the season. Following four consecutive losses to open the 2021 campaign, the River Turtles finished the month of June with a record of 13-10. The team enjoyed marked improvement during the summer months of July and August, finishing with a division-high 32 wins to claim the East Division championship.
“Getting there and watching them struggle the first week was really difficult. We knew they could play. And then to see them respond and improve…I was really proud of what the team had become by the end of the season,” says Crist.
The championship game pitted the River Turtles against the 33-16-1 Greeneville Flyboys in Greeneville, Tenn. The River Turtles seized the lead in the first inning, and reclaimed the lead in the fifth inning as both teams staged an offensive showcase. The River Turtles maintained a one-run advantage entering the bottom of the ninth, when a gut-wrenching, one-out double for the Flyboys proved to be the death knell.
“One game doesn’t define that team. They were champions; really good players,” says Crist, recalling the spirited season finale. “These guys were better players when they left us. I felt like so many could go back to their colleges and their college coaches would see an improvement. That’s our goal.”
In addition to his accomplishments with the River Turtles, Crist had the honor of managing the East Division All-Star team for the Appalachian League’s inaugural All-Star Game, which was broadcast nationwide on MLB Network from Calfee Park.
Alongside Crist through his memorable maiden season were pitching coach Ted Power and hitting coach Roger Hill. Both coaches are expected to return in 2022. Reuniting key members of the coaching staff was an important offseason objective for the River Turtles organization.
“We’re thrilled that our coaching staff will be returning for another season. It speaks to the passionate dedication of our entire local baseball community that Clark, Ted and Roger all expressed a desire to return to Pulaski. They did such a great job in 2021, and having this continuity with our coaching staff gives us a significant competitive advantage at the outset of the season,” says Pulaski River Turtles general manager JW Martin.
Expectations are high entering the 2022 season. While a return to the championship game is Crist’s overall aim, he wants the team to remain focused on development, and to appreciate the unique experiences afforded to players and staff participating in Appalachian League baseball in Pulaski.
“Going to a city I had never been to and being embraced like I was…that was a really good feeling. I didn’t realize how big the turnout was going to be. And they loved it,” recalls Crist. “They were just so supportive of our players, myself and the coaching staff.”
View the 2022 River Turtles schedule here.