Ervin “Budgie” Clark, Jr. is back where it all started, or at least a relay from deep centerfield up the Boulevard from what is now Kiwanis Field.
Clark has been named the new groundskeeper for the Salem Red Sox at Salem Memorial Ballpark. His official title is “Facilities Manager and Head Groundskeeper,” and he’s already been nurturing Haley Toyota Field as the diamond was recently scraped and resodded with top quality Kentucky Bluegrass.
“I had a lot of friends here, and I’m sure a lot of them are still here,” said Clark, who graduated from Salem High School in 1980. “Chris Conner and I grew up together and Randy Lower was my best friend in college. I’m sure I’ll get to see a lot of old friends once they know I’m back.”
In the past 30 years or so Budgie has been traveling the world using his expertise to create and groom baseball fields around the globe. He’s spent time with five major league teams in spring training and twice he was honored as the Groundskeeper of the Year for the Florida State League. He’s been a baseball field consultant for three baseball Olympic programs, in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, and in 2009 he served as head groundskeeper for the Washington Nationals. In recent years he’s been performing field construction and maintenance consulting work in Amsterdam, Mexico and Nicaragua.
Budgie started working on baseball fields at Salem Municipal Field(now Kiwanis Field) when he was just 15 years old. Clark learned much of his trade from another native Salemite, Murray Cook. Murray worked his way up the ladder as a kid at Municipal Field when the Salem Carolina League team played there. Cook is now recognized as the top groundskeeping and baseball field consultant in the world, and his company has not only created and nurtured fields in countless countries, he’s also done work for the grounds at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. And it all started right here in Salem.
“I learned most of what I know from Murray,” said Clark, who worked with Murray on the Haley Toyota Field project.
“It was much needed,” said Red Sox General Manager Ryan Shelton. “It was a huge project and a huge investment but I think everyone will be real pleased with the finished product. It looks just great.”
Cook recommended Budgie to Shelton when the Salem groundskeeping position came open after the 2017 Carolina League season. Clark worked in Burlington, Iowa last year but he was excited to get back to Salem, where he signed a one-year contract.
“I think he’s going to be great,” said Shelton. “Murray spoke very highly of him and it’s nice to have someone from the area.”
“I know John Shaner and the folks at the city are really happy he took the job, and I am too,” said Cook. “He’s home.”
Cook and Clark have something else in common besides their expertise with dirt and grass. Both are also members of the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame, as Murray was inducted in 2006 and Clark in 2011.
While Budgie can groom a diamond, he knew how to get around the bases as a youngster. He played for the very first Salem High team where he was a Roanoke Valley District batting champ. He earned first team All-Metro and All-Valley honors playing for coach John Finnerty.
“He’s a great guy,” said Clark of Finnerty. “He got me going in the right direction. He believed in all his kids.”
Budgie went on to play college ball at Virginia Tech, where he made All-Metro Conference, All-State and All-NCAA teams as honorable mention. He started at second base for Chuck Hartman as a freshman, hitting .329 while playing along side future major leaguer Franklin Stubbs.
While Clark was inducted into the local baseball Hall of Fame in 2011, it wasn’t until this fall that he actually saw Salem Memorial Ballpark. Now, he’s in charge of it.
“I’m excited to be back,” he said. “It’s going to be cool to see some friends I haven’t seen for a long time.”