Bill got in his
first big-money game at 17. "It was in a pool hall called Buck's," he
recalls. "I played from Tuesday at 8 p.m. till Thursday at 10 a.m. without
stopping. To give you an idea of what money was like at the time, my daddy was
a math professor, and he made $800 all summer teaching summer school. That one
game I made $1,800. My daddy came in every five hours to check up on me, and he
still thought I'd held someone up when I came home and gave the money to him.
That money went into a fund that helped me pay for college."
While his friends
were working at the local Dairy Queen for 80 cents an hour, Bill worked the
tables for thousands while in college. After graduation he continued to play
the occasional high stakes game and just to be on the safe side, he traveled to
area pool halls with two friends, one of whom was 6'5" and weighed 270
pounds. Will remembers seeing his father take $2,000 from a guy in one hour at
a place called Whitey's Seafood. "Daddy ran 10 straight racks," Will
recalls. "The guy'd lost $1,000 and hadn't taken a shot yet. Daddy can read
the spin on a cue ball like I can a baseball."
It's difficult to
put a finger on such things, but some of the moxie of the professional pool
player has surely rubbed off on Clark. There are no prizes for second place in
nine ball. No teammates to rely on when the pressure is intense. It is purely a
game of skill. That's the way Clark looks at baseball. Other players talk about
bad bounces and line drives that go foul by inches. But to Clark, baseball is
purely a test of skill, and it doesn't take a derrick falling on his head for
him to know whether or not he's better than the man on the mound. And if he is
better, well, that's a confrontation he should win, right? A hundred times out
of a hundred. Hence, the outrage when he fails: You will never, ever, do that
to me again.
The days spent
hunting and fishing with his father remain the fondest memories of Clark's
childhood. "Baseball was never my first priority," he says. "I
didn't think about playing pro ball till I was a junior in high school. I was
having too much fun being a kid. My dad and I were gone every weekend, hunting
or fishing. He brought me up in the woods."
that shooting a shotgun as a boy was one of the main reasons he developed such
spectacular hand-eye coordination. Clark is nearly as deadly from a duck
blind—Will the Kill—as he is in a batter's box. "Will shoots ducks before
anyone else sees them," his father says, a statement that is as much a
testament to Will's exceptional eyesight as it is to his aim. Clark has 20/12
vision in both eyes- Ted Williams had 20/10 vision in both eyes—and can
distinguish a hen from a drake in the gray light of dawn at 70 yards.
And if there is
one thing that Clark sees lots of when he's not playing baseball, it is the
gray light of dawn. Last fall and winter he hunted every day of the duck
season, from the week before Thanksgiving to the first week in January, on
three square miles he leases on a bayou near Spanish Lake. It is about an
hour's drive out of New Orleans and a few miles from the land his father used
to lease, and on weekends Clark took his 13-year-old brother, Scotty, along,
just as Bill used to take Will. They stayed on Will's 35-foot-long houseboat, a
permanently docked shrimping barge that can, in a pinch, sleep seven. It is
outfitted with a gas stove and lights that run on electricity from a car
battery. "You don't want it too neat and pretty," Clark says.
Each morning he
and Scotty awakened at 5 a.m. and put Will's black Lab, Psycho, in the bow of
their canoe. Then they paddled for five minutes to one of the fiberglass duck
blinds planted in the marsh. There are no trees in the bayou, just marsh grass
and water, and as the dawn starts to turn the night sky gray, and as the birds
start to clack and twirr and feedle—well, as Will puts it, "There's no
better time of day to be in a duck blind."
Will and Scotty
would set up their 40 decoys and wait. Within 15 minutes, the ducks—widgeon,
teal, mallard—would start flying, and Will would call them in. Since there is a
three-duck limit, the shoot was usually over by 7:30.
In the afternoons
they fished for speckled trout. Then at night, Will cooked dinner: He breasted
the ducks, braised them until brown, then removed the meat from the skillet. He
put onions, seasonings and bell pepper in the skillet, and fried them in
butter. Then he put the duck breasts back in, covered them with water, and
simmered the whole thing for an hour and a half. In the last 15 minutes he
added red wine, and he served the meal over rice.
It may not be
James Beard, but for a baseball player on a shrimp barge, it's pretty good
victuals. "I'll tell you," says Giants pitcher Mike LaCoss, who shares
Clark's passion for hunting, "if Will ever marries, it'll be to a girl who
shoots a shotgun and eats wild game."