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Tunstall trio shares same field, collegiate summer baseball experience

Prior to this summer, former Tunstall baseball standouts Jackson Clark and Matt Yarbrough had never looked out across the diamond and seen their friend and former Tunstall teammate Will Davis looking back at them from the opposing dugout …

Illustration: Davin Wilson/River City Sports

Prior to this summer, former Tunstall baseball standouts Jackson Clark and Matt Yarbrough had never looked out across the diamond and seen their friend and former Tunstall teammate Will Davis looking back at them from the opposing dugout.

That all changed in late-July when the Martinsville Mustangs hosted the Deep River Muddogs in a non-conference collegiate summer league matchup at Hooker Field in Martinsville.

Not only did Clark and Yarbrough look out and see Davis in the opposing dugout, they squared off against him as well on the field.

Clark, a pitcher at Brewton-Parker College, earned the starting nod for Deep River, a pitcher at Ferrum College, got the starting nod for Martinsville. Yarbrough rounded out the trio, earning the starting spot in right field and batting sixth.

While Davis had the best night statistically, picking up his second win of the season after throwing six innings of two-hit, shutout ball and striking out 12 in the Mustangs’ victory, all three won out by being on the field.

Their summer collegiate seasons served as solid replacements for their regular collegiate seasons they missed out on due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yarbrough made 16 appearances for Deep River of the Old North State League, an eight-team, wooden-bat league spread out across North Carolina, batting .176 with five RBI. Clark made six appearances on the bump for the Muddogs, including his lone start against Davis, throwing a combined nine innings.

Davis finished the season with a 2–1 record and 3.38 ERA while also striking out 29 in six appearances and 16 innings pitched for Martinsville of the Coastal Plain League, a 15-team, wooden-bat league spread out across the Southeast and featuring some of the top collegiate talent in the country.

“It really filled the hole nicely because the amount of games we got to play this summer,” Clark said. “It really felt like we played a whole college season then a summer season. At one point, when we got into the swing of things, we were playing five days a week and that was a lot fun.”

For Davis, the summer meant learning new ways to approach the game of baseball from a mental standpoint.

“I took away a lot of skills and mindsets that I probably would’ve never learned if I hadn’t played this summer, “Davis said. “So, it’s definitely going to play a key role in this upcoming season at Ferrum. I’m looking forward to using them this season at Ferrum and seeing what happens.”

Tunstall graduates (left-right) Clark, Davis and Yarbrough all squared off against each other as members of the Deep River Muddogs or Martinsville Mustangs. Photo: Brian Cendejas/Danville Register & Bee.

Clark, Davis and Yarbrough aren’t exactly the type to sit around and watch the dust collect. Given this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the three didn’t rest on their laurels after arriving home from their respective schools after the coronavirus pandemic canceled their academic and athletic seasons.

Knowing he needed to stay in shape, Yarbrough went DIY, building his own personal gym at his parents’ house. While it wasn’t much, it was enough for Yarbrough, along with his best buddies Clark and Davis, to stay in shape and loose. And that’s what they did.

“We never really got out of it,” Yarbrough said. “I built basically a whole gym in my garage-basement type of thing and me and [Will] and [Jackson] when we came home were always in there, staying loose and sharp. Me and [Will] went to GW a lot and he would hit me ground balls and throw me batting practice and that was kind of our field.”

“The three of us really went out a lot and that helped because baseball isn’t exactly a sport you can practice by yourself. I got lucky to have these good friends that helped me out and kept me ready for the season.”

No matter the amount of time spent in makeshift garage gyms, on the practice field or in the cage, nothing can substitute for live-game experiences. It’s a lesson, after having nearly two months off after the cancellation of his college season, Yarbrough learned at the beginning of the summer league.

“Seeing pitching again, that was the toughest thing at first,” Yarbrough said. “I didn’t think it was going to be as different as it was but they took us out in the middle of our college seasons, then we jumped into a summer season after time off so it took a few weeks. Our coach, in practice, would have us go out there and basically play pickup ball against each other so that helped.”

For Davis, the summer season served as an opportunity for him to mature as a baseball player, but as a young man as well.

“In college, we have somebody that leads you in practice, leads you in the game, they watch over you and make sure you’re doing everything the way you needed to do things,” Davis said. “It wasn’t like that with Martinsville so I guess the main thing was getting things done when I needed to get them done.”

“So, I guess it was really a work ethic thing. Concentrating more on what I needed to do in the time I had.”

Davis’ solution?

“I tried to stay on the same schedule I was on at Ferrum,” he said. “I tried to lift three days a week, tried to run a couple of days, stay in the rhythm of running and staying in routine of loosening up before throwing drills. Things like that.”

In my freshman Intro to Public Speaking course at Danville Community College, the first thing my teacher taught us was to imagine our audience in their underwear whenever we got nervous.

Clark faced some of the top collegiate talent in the country on the bump this summer and while he didn’t imagine his opponents in their underwear, he did have one trick he used to keep from getting nervous while staring down some of the best.

“I thought of every game this summer, no matter who we played, as a backyard whiffle ball game,” Clark said. “Go out there, have fun, throw the ball, because when you go out there and have fun, seven out of 10 times, you’re not going to fail.”

Like his teammate, Yarbrough didn’t yield to the pressure either.

“I don’t really get intimidated by that kind of stuff,” he said. “I just try to go out and remember it’s just baseball and that person is just like me. Sure, they may go to a school with a little bit bigger of a name but at the end of the day, we come out pretty equal.”

Davis played against and with players from some of the top D-I collegiate programs in the country on a nightly basis, including guys from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, East Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgetown and Clemson just to name a few.

It was an experience Davis not only welcomed, but had fun with as well.

“It was more fun than anything knowing I could be on the field after four or five months of not doing anything and once I got back out there, seeing I could play with these guys,” he said. “I was out there with 51 guys and it was fun to see the differences in routines and levels and it was fun being around all that.”

Former Tunstall baseball standout Jackson Clark delivers a pitch during Deep River’s matchup against the Martinsville Mustangs. Clark struggled a bit in his first start against some of the top D-I talent in the country but learned a few lessons in the process. Photo: Brian Cendejas/Danville Register & Bee.

College baseball is a grind.

At the minimum, teams play a 40-plus game regular season and that number can easily double if a team makes a deep postseason run. Then there’s the travel which can involve trips to two or three states a week and we can’t forget about practices which often number six a week. Not to mention the countless hours of independent weight lifting and throwing practice along with time spent in the hitting cage.

While Clark and Yarbrough found the same to be true playing with Deep River this summer, they also found summer league play to be a bit more relaxed.

“Playing summer ball, you’re not really playing for anything like you are in college,” Clark said. “Yeah, there’s a championship that you play for at the end of the summer and yeah, it’s nice to win, but at [Brewton-Parker] we’re playing in conference, trying to win conference and trying to make a regional but summer league is a bit more laid back.”

Playing at a small college, Clark was also quick to point out he enjoyed playing for a larger crowd this summer.

“It’s been nice, it’s been fun,” Clark said. “I like playing in front of 500 people a night. It’s a cool experience because they don’t know you and you don’t know them. They’re there because they like watching baseball and supporting you.”

Yarbrough added, “It’s a little more relaxed. That’s really the only difference. That and the work is really up to you but you want to be a good teammate and contribute but it’s a little bit of a different environment.”

Like Davis, Yarbrough also learned that just because a player goes to a bigger school, it doesn’t mean they are better.

“You play with guys in junior college, D-I, D-II players so it’s a spread out group of guys shoved into one and you learn there’s not really much of a difference between each of the levels of college baseball,” Yarbrough said. “You can see in other sports where the talent is separated but in baseball, the talent is all pretty close to the same.”

Davis concurred with Yarbrough saying, “It was definitely the competition I was playing with and against. While the level of competition wasn’t that much different than Ferrum, it was still a confidence booster knowing I could compete with guys that go to these big D-I colleges.”

Let’s go back to that night at Hooker Field for the Martinsville-Deep River game in late-July.

Clark, Davis and Yarbrough have been wearing the same uniforms and colors since they were old enough to pick up a bat and ball and start playing.

Given this, it’s understandable the trio felt a little awkward squaring off against each other at Hooker Field.

“It was definitely different,” Yarbrough said. “We’ve all been in the same uniform since we were young so it was different but definitely cool at the same time.”

For Davis, the experience was both a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and progress report.

“It was fun because me and [Matt] are on the same team in college and we were on the same team in high school so we’ve never really had a chance to play against each other and the same with [Jackson],” Davis said. “So, it was fun being able to play against each other and see how we’ve progressed and just being able to have that moment we’ll all remember for a long time.”

Davis and Yarbrough each brought up Clark’s outgoing personality and sense of humor several times throughout our interview. Given this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise Clark focused in on making Davis crack up a few times on the mound during their showdown in Martinsville.

“I was doing everything in my power to make [Will] laugh,” Clark said. “He told me I got to him a couple of times and that’s what I like to do. I like to joke around with the guys on my team and from the other team because that’s how baseball should be played. It should be a fun game where you can mess around with other guys.”

According to Clark, Davis got in on the fun as well.

“He got to yelling and joking with me from the dugout when I was on the mound and I tried really hard to keep a smile off my face while he was yelling at me from the dugout,” Clark said.

For Davis, it was a testament to their friendship nearly a decade in the making.

“It’s definitely a strong bond because we’ve been knowing each other for a long time and we know how to go out and joke around and have fun together,” Davis said.

The antics weren’t just limited to Clark and Davis.

Former Tunstall baseball standout Will Davis delivers a pitch during one of the Martinsville Mustangs’ games this summer. Davis posted a 2–1 record and 3.38 ERA and struck out 29 in 16 innings pitched for the Mustangs. Photo: Brian Cendejas/Danville Register & Bee.

While most collegiate student-athletes use the summer to recuperate both mentally and physically, Clark and Yarbrough spent their time running up and down the road and playing games in 100-degree heat.

Given the circumstances, the two needed a little down time to have some fun. Luckily for them, they found it in each other.

“I guess me and [Jackson] know how to push each other’s buttons,” Yarbrough said. “We can read each other pretty well and know what to say to each other in tough situations. He’d always tell me I was going to get cut or somebody else was going to come in and take my spot to get on my nerves a little bit.”

“I’d always tell him, ‘yeah, yeah, whatever,’ because I knew he was kidding. I would tell him I was going to leave him at the stadium or tell him a girl didn’t like or something like that. We had fun.”

Being a pitcher meant Clark didn’t play every game and he took his days off to stay on top of Yarbrough from the stands.

“I would only pitch once or twice a week so when I wasn’t pitching, I would always stay on top of [Matt] in the field,” Clark said. “I always made sure he was keeping his butt down when he goes to field a ground ball and doesn’t swing at pitches in the dirt.”

“That’s what I always tried to do to keep him loose because sometimes he can get into his head but as long as he’s having fun, he’s a better ball player.”

Davis had plenty of experience playing at Hooker Field prior to this summer. As a member of Tunstall’s program for four years, Davis was used to coming into Hooker Field and competing against the Martinsville Bulldogs.

The tables flipped this summer though as he found himself a member of the hometown Mustangs. An experience Davis enjoyed.

“It was definitely fun knowing I was representing not only Ferrum and my hometown but Martinsville as well growing up so close to it,” Davis said.

Davis not only enjoyed representing his community but reflecting back on his younger days as a spectator at Hooker Field.

“I had gone to one or two games for the Mustangs when I was in high school so it was cool to be able to look back and see where I sat from the field,” Davis said.

Former Tunstall baseball standout Matt Yarbrough waits for his pitch during Deep River’s contest against Martinsville. Yarbrough faced Davis one time with the result being a strikeout. Photo: Brian Cendejas/Danville Register & Bee.

While Clark, Davis and Yarbrough share many of the same similarities, they are their own people with their own unique personalities, views and perspectives. Meaning they all took different lessons from their summer experiences.

“The friends I made,” Clark said. “I’m a big people person and getting the opportunity to be on a 25-man roster with 24 other guys from all these different colleges and being able to compete with them, that’s been the best thing ever.”

Yarbrough’s answer was a bit more heady.

“Really just not taking things for granted,” Yarbrough said. “I’m a senior now and I know if I don’t get my extra year back, this year may be it. Just knowing not to take anything for granted and try to play every day like it’s my last and have fun with because I know it won’t last forever.”

Davis’ biggest take was a change in mindset.

“The biggest thing for me was learning how to sit back and let the game come to me,” Davis said. “It was a big confidence booster to play with so much great talent and just seeing how they let everything come to them and learning to do the same.”

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