Zac Clark, who was announced as the Cardinals general manager on Nov. 15, was formally introduced Thursday in a press conference at the Carnegie Hotel. The 27-year-old previously served as the Appalachian League baseball team’s assistant GM before leaving for the Asheville Tourists last season.
Jeremy Boler, Vice President of Boyd Sports LLC, the company which operates the franchise, said getting Clark back in Johnson City was the first option when previous GM Tyler Parsons returned home to Michigan.
“Our search didn’t last very long because we knew who would be a fantastic fit here,” Boler said. “We didn’t advertise the position truly because we had the Cardinals’ name and the leadership from (previous GM) Tyler (Parsons) had put the Johnson City Cardinals on the map. Everybody was really excited and we got a lot of e-mails and phone calls not even 24 hours before we started looking for a general manager. We had a lot of great applications. When the opportunity came, Zac and I talked on the phone and we knew there was a chemistry there where he knew the community, knew us and knew the ballpark. A couple of hours interview and some talk about upcoming ideas and we immediately knew it was a fit.”
Clark is certainly enthusiastic about the new hire. In baseball terms, he knocked it out of the park with his introductory press conference.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Clark said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity and I couldn’t be more excited than to be back in Johnson City. It’s a community I fell in love with when I was here. Everybody with the city has been open to our vision. When Tyler and I came here in 2014, we laid out the plan we wanted to do and stuck to it. This has grown into what we thought it would be. Now, it’s my job to take it to the next level.”
There is a certainly different vibe surrounding the Cardinals, who smashed their previous attendance record of 65,202 fans in 2017, compared to a few years ago when the empty seats far outnumbered the fans.
Clark explained when he and Parsons arrived the focus had been primarily on baseball instead of the total experience. That soon changed and improvements were made like a turf infield and a party deck/beer garden known as The Perch. In August, a Baseball Digest survey named TVA Credit Union Ballpark the “Best Rookie League Ballpark” in the country. Clark promised there are more changes to come including a new Musco lighting system to be installed.
“We have some exciting things coming to the ball park to elevate the fan experience,” Clark said. “We brought beer into the park and it changed the demographic. Then, we tried to enhance things like the music, the atmosphere and the vibe inside the ball park. We made minor changes and then Boyd Sports got involved and they really changed things up. It’s been a process, but it’s always part of the plan to focus on the fans first. We’re going to continue in that direction.”
It hasn’t hurt that the Cardinals have fielded their share of good teams over the past few years. The Cardinals have won four Appalachian League titles and have been to five championship series this decade.
Clark said his time in Asheville gave him a different perspective of executing plans and also afforded him a chance to look at the Johnson City Cardinals from afar. He also has taken ideas from some of the other successful Appy League teams like the Elizabethton Twins and Kingsport Mets.
“(Mets GM) Brian (Paupeck) and (Twins GM) Mike (Mains) have been mentors to me,” Clark said. “Watching how they do things, they’re staples in their community as much as we are. They’re very open to telling me what’s working for them and what isn’t. Kingsport did a big change with the seating and layout of the stadium which we might be excited about. Elizabethton put a focus on upgrading their food and beverage department. That’s something we want to implement. You always use ideas from teams which have been successful for a lot of years.”