SEATTLE — As a veteran of eight minor league seasons, right-hander Zach Clark has endured plenty of excruciating bus rides during his career.
He had never been on a cross-country flight, however, until he flew to Seattle on Tuesday.
The five-hour airplane ride seemed even longer knowing what was on the other side: The Safeco Field clubhouse and his No. 64 Orioles uniform hanging in his first big league locker.
"I've never been on a long flight, so five hours on a plane was crazy," said the 29-year-old Clark, who was added to the Orioles' 25-man roster Tuesday as bullpen insurance.
What's crazier is that he was an undrafted, fifth-year senior with an injury history out of UMBC who signed for $1,000 to add organizational depth. His negotiating table was the parking lot at UMBC, where Clark, his college coach and Orioles scout Dean Albany chatted for a while about baseball and Clark's aspirations.
And now he is a big leaguer.
"He just would never give up. He really, really believed he was going to pitch in the big leagues, and who am I to say, 'No, you're not,'" said Albany, who managed Youse's Maryland Orioles against Clark's Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in the mid-2000s. "You say, 'Live the dream,' and he really believed in his heart he would get there, somehow, some way."
Clark, a native of Newark, Del., got the call he had been hoping for at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday from Orioles director of player development Brian Graham.
Clark, of course, missed the first call.
"It was 6:30 in the morning. That was the hardest thing for me. I was trying to figure out what was going on, why I was getting called," said Clark, who was 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA in five starts at Triple-A Norfolk this season, including seven shutout innings in his last outing. "I didn't know what it was. I knew there were a lot of moves going on, but I didn't know."
Once he learned he was joining the Orioles, Clark packed quickly, picked up some stuff at Norfolk's stadium and headed to the airport. He called his wife and then his father, who, like his son, didn't pick up the phone at first.
Clark arrived at Safeco Field about 90 minutes before Tuesday's game time and got into his uniform, but he wasn't needed to pitch.
"I was making sure I said, 'Hi,' to everybody, made sure I didn't forget anything," Clark said. "I tried to soak it in as much as I could. But everything happened so quick I was just trying to not do anything wrong."
He'll be a long reliever for now, but if he's not used this week he'd be considered as a candidate for Saturday's start against the Los Angeles Angels. He also could be sent down this weekend to make room for another starter.
But all that is beyond him right now. The guy who used to go to games and sit in the upper deck on Friday "student nights" at Camden Yards is now an Oriole. Mainly because he never gave up fighting for his dream.
"Because I wanted it. I never felt like I couldn't do it," Clark said. "So if I felt like that maybe I'd have to re-evaluate. But I felt like it was something that was attainable."
Albany, who gives credit for Clark's development to the pitching coaches throughout the organization who worked with the persistent right-hander for years, said learning of Clark's promotion was one of the better moments of his longtime scouting career.
"I sent him a text immediately. Nobody has deserved this more than he has," Albany said. "He's earned it. He's been relentless. He is a really good guy and we're all real excited for him."
Tillman's going back to Cali
Right-hander Chris Tillman, who made his major league debut in 2009, has pitched in every American League ballpark except two: Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, who entered the AL this year; and Angel Stadium of Anaheim, the place Tillman practically grew up at watching baseball.