VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As former Major Leaguer and current MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a room full of some of the nation's best high school-age prospects on Monday afternoon, Joshua Williams sat in the back row, listening intently, diligently taking notes in a small journal.Williams is
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As former Major Leaguer and current MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a room full of some of the nation's best high school-age prospects on Monday afternoon, Joshua Williams sat in the back row, listening intently, diligently taking notes in a small journal.
Williams is one of just 125 players, from 19 U.S. States, who was invited to historic Dodgertown this week to participate in the 2018 Elite Development Invitational. This exclusive and prestigious event is geared toward providing elite training and instruction opportunities from former Major League players and coaches.
Williams, a 17-year-old outfielder from Chicago, proudly displayed his notepad, revealing page after page of shorthanded quotes and tidbits of Clark's presentation that he wanted to take away.
"He spoke with such passion and he knew everything that he was talking about. He felt confident with everything," Williams said, noting that Clark pulled at his heart strings as he listened attentively to the way he spoke and addressed the group. "He looks like me. I just could relate to what he was saying. … He went through stuff that I go through on a daily basis and he went through stuff that I'm going to face in the future and that I'm facing right now."
In the midst of the hour-long question-and-answer session, a break from a jam-packed day of on-field drills, Williams stopped his note-taking, raised his hand and asked an intuitive question.
"I was curious about how he got through the Minor Leagues so fast, because I know a lot of guys that got drafted don't end up making it to the Major Leagues. They get released or it takes them a minute to get there," he said. "I just wanted to know how quickly he did it and what he had to do exactly."
Making it through the Minor League circuit wasn't the only topic that was discussed. For Clark, who was drafted second overall in 1990 and played 15 seasons in the big leagues, imparting wisdom via his plethora of experiences both on and off the field -- physically and mentally -- is a privilege and an opportunity he always looks forward to.
"If there's one thing that I can offer from my journey that sticks, that maybe helps a young man in here, then it was all worthwhile," Clark said. "It's not just the X's and O's but the cerebral part of the game, the game that goes on above the shoulders. Having those kind of conversations, I enjoy."
Clark spoke about his experiences balancing his career with his life as a husband and father, his favorite memories from his tenure in the big leagues and where he sees Major League Baseball today and in the future. He talked about his climb to the biggest stage as a minority ballplayer, his encounters with doubters and those that did not want him to succeed, as well as his ability to remain disciplined, cutting out any and all distractions and never making excuses. This particularly resonated with Isaac Nunez, an 18-year-old shortstop from Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Nunez was especially struck by Clark's supportive gesture, offering up his personal phone number to each participant in the room, ensuring that these prospective professionals were by no means alone as they begin their progression toward the big leagues.
"His whole conversation, his demeanor, the way he came at us. It gave me goosebumps," Nunez said. "Something I'll take out of it is, drop the excuses. While he was saying that, I went back to moments where I got into arguments with my dad about something or arguments with my coaches, or argue a call or something. It's just like, 'For what?' It's going to be a struggle, playing in the low-A, high-A, going through the A-ball system, but … there's no reason you should ever hold back and give up"
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, another former Major Leaguer speaking this week at EDI, sat in the back of the room while the participants peppered Clark with questions, understanding that the executive director of the MLBPA is a perfect role model for these young men to aspire toward.
"Tony is someone who has not only done what they hope to do but the position he holds in baseball is one of the most influential positions in all of sports," Winfield said. "Tony hit the nail on the head in so many areas and I think it really hit home with these guys … What these kids are learning it's more than just an athletic endeavor -- your head has to be involved."
Tony Reagins, MLB executive vice president of baseball & softball development, said that having someone like Clark around, to go along with a group of incredibly knowledgeable and supportive coaches, is integral as these young ballplayers continue to develop.
"We think it's really important for Tony to come down and see what's taking place here because we think it's exciting to see the growth from one year to the next," Reagins said, looking back upon the growth of the Elite Development Inivitational as it enters its fourth year. "The kids will take the information that they receive tonight and hopefully digest it and hopefully they are able to take something from that conversation and that helps them throughout their baseball career."
Unlike a number of the other participants, Joshua Williams has yet to commit to playing baseball at the collegiate level. He does, however, have the drive and confidence necessary to achieve his goals, thanks in large part to what Clark communicated on Monday. And looking at the likes of Williams, an individual devoted to bettering himself, it's safe to say baseball's next generation is on its way and is utilizing EDI as a stepping stone to get there.
"I already hit five times a week. Now, I want to hit every single day. Three times a day," Williams explained. "I want to talk to my counselors and deal with school and work out a time schedule to put in my work to excel in school and find time to have fun in the game of baseball and manage that all into one. My life is fully dedicated into what I love to do and doing it as much as possible."
Max Goodman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Goodman97.