GAINESVILLE — Caleb Clark was just quietly going about this business in 2019. So much so, in fact, that the North Hall senior outfielder/pitcher did not even realize his name was about to be etched in lore among some of the all-time high school greats until after it was all over.
“I was having dinner with my cousin when I found out,” Clark said. “I immediately checked Georgia Dugout and could not believe it. I called my dad and said, ‘you’re not going to believe this.’ It was crazy.”
While Clark’s discovery was casual-like, his accomplishment was anything but. After banging out five hits in a two-game Class 3A semifinal series against Pace Academy on Tuesday, Clark tied the Georgia state record for most hits in a season with 70. He now sits atop the record books along with Kaleb Cowart, who is in the Los Angeles Angels farm system and starred at Cook County (2010).
“It’s pretty cool and all but I wish we had gone one more round in the playoffs,” Clark said. “There are some big names on that list so it’s neat to know I’ll be up there with those guys.”
He now will share notoriety with names like former Harrison High and Chicago Cubs star Corey Patterson (tied for 4th in hits for a season with (65) and is in the top 10 in three other categories; Providence Christian and now Detroit Tigers standout Christian Stewart (most HR in a season with 26, most walks with 51, 3rd all-time in RBI with 70); and former Gainesville standout Micah Owings (tied for 2nd in HR in a season with 25, and tied for 1st with 69 HR in a career, with Stewart). Owings played for five MLB teams from 2007 to 2012 as both a pitcher and hitter.
Clark closed out what will surely be one of the top individual North Hall seasons in program history on Tuesday. He finished the 2019 campaign with a .496 average, 70 hits, 5 HR, 18 2B, and 2 3B batting in the leadoff spot.
North Hall coach Trevor Flow, however, said the key to his record-setting season was sown during Clark’s freshman season.
“He has tremendous speed and I have been trying to get him to bunt for four years. It finally came to him this year,” Flow said. “That just really opened everything up for him this season. You still have to have some luck but he is one of the best bad-ball hitters we’ve ever had here. That’s how you beat a good pitcher and he was tough all year.”
Clark said his stubbornness also played a big part in being able to tie the record.
“I didn’t like bunting but once I opened myself up more to that I really think it’s a big weapon to have, especially if you have some speed,” Clark said. “I don’t like to walk much. It’s it’s there, I’m swinging.
“Guys like Stewart and (former Gainesville High slugger) Micah Owings didn’t get as many chances for hits because they were walked a ton. If I had more power, I doubt I could have gotten that many hits.”
What makes the hits record even more amazing is that he accomplished the feat battling a shoulder injury. Clark, who bats and throws left-handed, has signed to play next season at Snead State in Boaz, Ala., but will take several months off as he tries to nurse a slight muscle tear in his left shoulder. The injury kept him off the mound for the final six weeks of the 2019 season.
“It just needs to rest so I’m not going to play summer ball and I’m not supposed to throw for a couple of months,” Clark said. “I should be ready to go and healthy by next baseball season. I feel like I really drained everything I had this year.”
Flow expects Clark will be able to continue to perfect his craft and also expects bigger things down the road.
“He has one of those natural swings. Just smooth and he knows how to use the entire field,” Flow said. “I feel like he has natural Division-I talent and I hope he gets a chance to show people how good he can really be. If he gets a little stronger, his potential is limitless at the plate.
“I think when it’s all said and done, Caleb is probably going to be remembered as one of the top-five hitters in North Hall history.”