The Pulaski River Turtles are hoping that the third time’s the charm with manager Clark Crist.
Having notched a pair of top-two finishes in the Appalachian League East division in his first two seasons of competition as the manager of the Pulaski franchise, Crist is returning for his third season with the same approach to the game.
“The goals are the same,” said Crist. “We want to provide a positive environment for the players to work in, we want to teach and develop, and we want to win it all. But all of those things have to fall in place in the right order.
“First, you have to make the players feel comfortable. Secondly, you have to know that they trust you and that the information that you are giving them will make them better. Then you take off,” said Crist. “That happened in our first year. You saw how the team was struggling while we were getting to know each other, and then they got better, and at the end of the season we were as good or better than any team in the league.”
Following a magical 2021 campaign that came within two outs of a victory in the Appalachian League Championship Game, Crist’s leadership was tested in 2022. Several key injuries early on, coupled with a bullpen beleaguered by attrition, set the stage for a roller coaster season. Despite the adversity, Crist led the River Turtles to 27 wins and a second-place finish in the Appalachian League East division standings.
Looking back, Crist credits his experience in helping to navigate the challenges of the 2022 season.
“The difference between the first year and the second year for me was getting used to the environment and knowing what to expect,” Crist said. “Last year I was a little more relaxed throughout because I understood the process. It is a development league, but it’s also a very competitive league. That balance is important: we compete hard, but these young players are still learning. Having that understanding and that experience is key to getting the most out of the players.”
Crist understands development as well as anyone in the Appalachian League. The Tucson, Ariz., native’s playing career included a collegiate national championship as the starting shortstop for the 1980 University of Arizona team. Drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 14th round of the 1980 MLB June Amateur Draft, Crist spent four seasons in Minor League Baseball, eventually serving as a player-coach for the Mariners’ Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, from 1982-85.
Crist’s major league tenure included scouting roles for the Houston Astros (1985-92), the Boston Red Sox (1992-94), the Cleveland Indians (1994-95), the New York Mets (1995-97),the St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2006) and the Cincinnati Reds (2006-15). Crist oversaw the signing of many notable names during his career as an MLB scout such as All-Stars Kenny Lofton and Albert Pujols, Covelli “Coco” Crisp, Mike Leake, Tommy Pham, Chris Duncan, and Amir Garrett.
Anchored by the anticipated return of a nucleus of second-year players, Crist has high expectations for his incoming roster of athletes.
“I enjoy the players. I enjoy the ballpark. I enjoy the town,” Crist said. “There’s such a buzz in Pulaski about baseball. They support us, and they come out and root for us. That environment makes it worthwhile to me. For me, after 41 years of professional baseball, to be part of this team is a blessing. It feeds that side of me that needs to still be a part of the game.”