Rabid Colorado Rockies fans look at Jared Clark's power numbers and salivate at the idea of someone with his power replacing aging Todd Helton at first base.
They know Modesto is a graveyard for power hitters, so when they see a member of the Nuts taking 22 home runs and 81 RBI into August both top-five numbers in the California League they get excited.
And then they start asking questions about why a struggling major league franchise is keeping a 26-year-old power hitter at the High-A level.
Clark, a former pitcher and first baseman at Fullerton State, asks himself the same questions. Being honest with himself, he knows the answers.
"I'm happy with the power numbers," Clark said. "I'm a power guy. But I'd like to be doing better overall and striking out less and hitting for a higher average. If I'm driving in runs, I feel I'm doing my job, but I'm not satisfied. I'm not happy with the average or the strikeouts."
Yes, there are those other numbers on the stat sheet. Last year, Clark hit .229 and struck out 66 times in 214 at-bats for Modesto. This year he's hitting .247 with 101 strikeouts in 337 at-bats.
The strikeouts are a direct result of Clark's big swing. He's a big guy at 6 feet, 4 inches, and is heavier than his roster weight of 215 pounds.
"I'm working at it, but it's hard to cut down my swing," Clark said. "I'm having a problem doing that and still getting power, especially at this park. When we're home, I have to concentrate on just putting the ball in play more. Overall, I'm definitely not happy."
That's saying a lot for a guy who generally is in a decidedly upbeat mood at the ballpark, always one of the first at the communal clubhouse card table that springs to life immediately after batting practice.
But he sees his numbers and he sees his name not always on the lineup card and he knows the correlation.
"If I were hitting better I'd be playing every day, but that's not happening so I can't argue with it," Clark said.
Last year, Clark was set to be the primary first baseman after Mike Zuanich was promoted immediately after the All-Star Game. But when Clark's numbers stayed low, he ended up splitting the position with Kiel Roling, who got the call to Double-A Tulsa to start this season. The same thing is happening this season, as Clark finds himself splitting time at first base and designated hitter with Mark Tracy.
Still, because of the power numbers, there is no shortage of hope that Clark can make the adjustments necessary not only to improve through the final month of the season but to take his game to Double-A in 2013.
"He has made an improvement over last year, and it's obvious because the power numbers are there," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "That's encouraging, because when he makes more contact those power numbers also will improve.
"He's had spurts of brilliance where he's carried this team. If he can find a way to not take such a big swing, and to make better contact, and to go the other way, his hitting definitely would improve."
Clark's power was in full display in May, when he pounded 11 homers and drove in 32 runs. Even with that level of production, he hit .253 and struck out 25 times in 99 at-bats that month.
He remains on target to break the single-season home run record for Modesto first basemen since 1997, the year Thurman Field was converted from band box to a yard with dimensions rivaling several national parks. That mark is 23, set by T.R. Marcinczyk in 1997.
The Nuts' home run record is 23, set last season by Kent Matthes, and Modesto's post-renovation record is the 29 hit by Ryan Ludwick in 2000.
Record or no, Clark already has found his way into Modesto baseball lore. On June 22, he pitched the final three innings of the Nuts' 7-6 victory over Stockton, an 18-inning affair that will always be best known as the "balk game," when Stockton right fielder Josh Whitaker was ordered to intentionally balk three times to expedite the end of the game.
"I'll do whatever keeps me in baseball, but pitching is not what I want to do," said Clark, who hit 89 mph on the stadium radar gun that night. "I told Lenny early in the season that if anything like that came up, I'd be happy to throw. But we'll cross that road if it comes."
By "that road," Clark means a decision to convert to pitcher as a means to stay in the game. It was the path to the majors for former Modesto players Matt Keough (shortstop) and Marcus McBeth (center field) and more recently for Stockton first baseman Sean Doolittle.
But Clark's not done swinging. More than that, he's not done trying to figure out a way to make more consistent contact.
"I've driven a lot of balls to the gap in right field here that are home runs at every other ballpark, that get caught, Clark said. "That's the way it goes. But Coors Field isn't small, either, so I have to deal with it from here on out and work on making more contact.
"It's not like I'm going to beat out any infield hits, but I need to strike out less and put the ball in play to help the team more. Striking out doesn't help anybody."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.