By Dave Ongie
Zac Clark was formally introduced as the new General Manager of the Johnson City Cardinals last Thursday, but for most folks who attended the noon press conference at the Carnegie Hotel, Clark needed no introduction.
Clark served as the assistant GM in Johnson City for three seasons before spending this past summer working for the Asheville Tourists. During his time in Johnson City, the 27-year-old helped former GM Tyler Parsons usher in an era of unprecedented success. The Cardinals set a new attendance record in 2016 before shattering that mark in 2017 when over 65,000 people poured through the turnstiles of TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
So when Parsons decided to take a job with the Lansing Lugnuts following the 2017 season, the leadership of Boyd Sports LLC – which owns the Cardinals – didn’t have to look too far to find a new GM.
“Our search didn’t last too very long because we knew who would be a fantastic fit here,” said Jeremy Boler, Vice President of Boyd Sports. “We didn’t advertise the position truly because we had the Cardinals’ name, and the leadership from Tyler had put the Johnson City Cardinals on the map.
“We had a lot of great applications. When the opportunity came, Zac and I talked on the phone and we knew there was a chemistry there where he knew the community, knew us and knew the ballpark. A couple of hours interview and some talk about upcoming ideas, and we immediately knew it was a fit.”
With the Cardinals riding a wave of success, bringing Clark back to Johnson City is clearly an attempt to keep the good times rolling. Clark worked side-by-side with Parsons in Martinsville for two seasons before their three years together in Johnson City. While they have different approaches, Clark believes they share a common philosophy when it comes to attracting people to TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
“I think when we first got here back in 2014, we realized that a lot of the focus was on the baseball,” Clark said. “That was really an obvious change for us to make.”
Parsons and Clark’s first move was to bring beer sales into the ballpark, which Clark credited for changing the fan demographics almost immediately. The duo also did everything they could to enhance the fan experience, spicing up the music, promotions and the overall atmosphere.
When Boyd Sports came onboard in 2015, they brought the resources necessary to begin transforming the park. First came The Perch, a popular fan lounge along the left-field line, followed by artificial turf and new lighting. More changes are on the horizon, and Clark is happy to be back in Johnson City continuing the job he started along with Parsons, who Clark still talks to almost daily.
“It’s been a process, but it’s always been part of the plan,” Clark said of the stadium renovations. “Tyler and I have been together for a lot of years. I think we complimented each other, and that’s why it worked so well for so many years.”
Looking ahead, Clark has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. For starters, he wants to break the attendance mark Parsons set last season.
“I’m a very competitive guy, so that’s going to be something for me to really shoot for,” he said. “That’s going to be my No. 1 priority – can we bring enough fans to the ballpark to eclipse that record and keep this organization growing and moving forward? That’s something I’m very excited to chase after.”
But much of what Clark wants to accomplish has nothing to do with baseball. TVA Credit Union Ballpark is quickly morphing into a year-round entertainment venue, and Clark wants to continue that trend as the revitalization of Downtown Johnson City continues all around the ballpark.
“We want to use it for concerts, 5ks, Crossfit competitions – you name it,” Clark said. “That’s something that’s extremely important to us, to keep being relevant in the community. We’re going to be extremely focused on that.”