Clark-tober: Clark Thomas reinvents ‘imagination, innovation and having fun’ through unique ball tournament Oct. 26-27

Clark Thomas is a dreamer.

He’s all about imagination, innovation and having fun.

“The catalyst for Clarkball is my dad and his love of baseball,” he said. “Almost every night after dinner we played catch in the back yard. It never mattered what happened during the day; for 30 minutes a night we talked about baseball, and we just had fun.”

Clarkball is a severely-warped version of baseball, maybe better described as a combination of Wiffleball and dodgeball – from the baseball-loving mind of Clark Thomas.

As a boy, he turned his parents’ backyard into a Clarkball stadium, or Thomski Park; Chalk baselines, giant green and blue tarps for the outfield fence, including his own form of the Green Monster called the Big-Blue Monster. There was even a manually-operated scoreboard in right-center field.

He’s had lights and a sound system set up for special occasions like tournaments with neighborhood kids, or just his buddies.

Oh, and the unique nature of his back yard called for some unique rules. There were trees that became part of the park. If you hit the tree in left field, the ball was in play. In right field, that tree was a home run.

The fan-favorite section was the back patio of his house, along the right-field line, which included a food court (a grill).

There were advertising billboards on the outfield fence. Seriously, there was “Big Mac Land.” Hit the sign and win a Big Mac? Absolutely. One year, he had a ton of Big Mac coupons donated by McDonald’s.

A National Anthem was sometimes played.

Players were sometimes announced.

It was just like the Majors.

The Major Leagues of Clarkball.

“I’ll always credit my friend Mike Kuzminski for coining the name ‘Clarkball’, as well as inspiring me with his own enthusiasm and love for the game,” said Thomas. “Long before the tournaments, it was just Mike and me in my yard with a flood light, mimicking the batting stances of Jack Wilson and Magglio Ordonez.”

What has grown into somewhat of a local phenomenon began for the same reason it still appeals to Clark and his 20-something-aged friends today; he didn’t want to give up playing the game he loved.

“I’m terrible at baseball,” said Thomas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I hold the Little League record for strikeouts, seriously. Regardless of how many times I missed the ball, though, I kept swinging. I loved playing, but when your career hit total is lower than the number on your back, you have to retire. I wear number ‘8.’ I may have quit playing, but I never quit the game, and that’s when Clarkball started to take shape.”

Clarkball is used with a regulation Dodgeball that couldn’t hurt a flea (the ball they use to throw at each other in school gym classes), and a taped-up Wiffleball bat. Each team plays with six fielders, though they may choose to bat all players on the roster. There is no stealing, no walks, and in another Dodgeball twist, a player is out if struck with a thrown or batted ball running between bases.

The different rules are a shining example of what Clarkball is all about – fun and imagination.

“Clarkball is about imagination, innovation, and having fun,” said Thomas. “Building that field in my yard and creating the experience for everyone was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Every time a person stepped across those lines I wanted them to feel like a Major League Baseball player. The food, the crowd; that’s what creates the magic of Clarkball. Combine that with a soft and safe game ball that curves and floats in a gravity-defying manner and you really have something special; you have something fun.”

A tournament was once held every summer, but with Thomas living away from Warren County, the area was without Clarkball for four years.

The 2013 reincarnation of Clarkball will take place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26 and 27, at Betts Park. Depending on the number of teams, there could be several unique fields, including a “main field,” said Thomas, which could feature a fully-functional scoreboard, lights, banners, home run decorations, and even a “jumbotron” – a projector that will show Major League Baseball World Series games as well as live footage of Clarkball games – all for a one-of-a-kind experience. Proceeds from the event will go toward the Lacy Community Park Foundation and the AJO Forever Foundation.

It’s Clark’s hope – and you could see that he has plenty of hope with inspirations like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and the Detroit Tigers – that this is the first of a series of tournaments across Warren County and beyond.

“Maybe I didn’t realize it at first, but Clarkball is about never letting go of what you love,” said Thomas. “I can look back now and see what really inspired this; my family, friends, and every person who enjoyed themselves on my field. All I do is provide the stage, the people create the show.”

For information, or to register for this year’s tournament, contact Thomas at 779-8898 or visit www.clarkball.org.

Thomas is holding practice games at Thomski Park, 932 River Rd., from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today to show people the game. They can also register teams there, he said.