WASHINGTON — One local man’s dream came true as he made his Major League Baseball debut on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.
Sam Clay, a Buford High School Class of 2012 alumnus, got to pitch his first inning in a Major League game. He was called up in the fourth inning to pitch for the Washington Nationals.
A Major League debut is always something special, but for Clay, it was extra special. He grew up rooting for the Atlanta Braves, and to have his first chance to pitch in the big leagues against his hometown team was even more meaningful for the 27-year-old left-handed pitcher.
Clay faced the top of the Braves’ order in the first game of the Nats’ double-header. His first pitch was a line-drive single to left field by Ronald Acuňa Jr. The next batter he was up against, Ozzie Albies, grounded out.
Clay then found himself behind in the count 3-0 against the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, Freddie Freeman. He then was able to bounce back and strike out Freeman on what Washington’s General Manager Davey Martinez called “some pretty nasty sliders.”
He again found himself behind the count at 3-0 to Marcell Ozuna. Clay settled in and was able to strike out Ozuna to end his MLB debut inning.
In his debut inning, Clay threw 15 pitches and eight strikes with no runs scored. He allowed only that one hit by Acuṅa Jr. The Braves would go on to win the game 7-6 over the Nationals.
The road to Clay’s Major League debut was a long one, as he spent seven years in the Minor League circuit of the Minnesota Twins after they drafted him in 2014.
In the Minor League, Clay has only allowed one home run since 2017. In 2019, his last full season in the Minor League, he recorded 72 strikeouts over the course of 45 appearances.
He signed his Major League contract in November 2020 as part of the Nationals’ organization. In spring training this year, Clay impressed coaches, but with a full roster at the time, he was optioned to Rochester. A series of events led to him being called up to the Major League for his start against Atlanta.
Clay attended Georgia Tech and during his time there, he was invaluable en route to Tech’s ninth ACC Championship. At that time he had the second overall lowest ERA in school history (now third) at 1.26.
Clay has made residents of his hometown of Buford very proud, including his high school baseball coach, Tony Wolfe.
“I’m just so proud of Sam and happy for him. He has worked so hard for today’s opportunity. He is a great representative of Buford,” said Wolfe, who is now Buford’s athletic director.
Clay was a starting pitcher on Buford baseball’s 2011 State Championship team and he was also the starting quarterback for the football team.
“Outstanding young man who has always been humble and hard working,” Wolfe said. “Class act on the field and off.”
Clay left his mark on his hometown. His letterman jacket hangs in Gwinnett County’s longest-running sporting goods store, The Sports Connection on Buford Drive in Buford.
On The Sports Connection’s Facebook page, a post was shared that included photos of Clay’s jacket with a message that reads, “Congratulations to Sam Clay on his Major League debut for the Nationals. Not too shabby for a Homegrown Buford Wolf. Yes, we still have your jacket!!”