Caitlin Clark and Paul Skenes are off and running after highly anticipated rookie years crossed paths in Indy

Caitlin Clark and Paul Skenes have likely never met. But they have so much in common, and they were together – sort of – last month in Indianapolis, where their blockbuster coming of age rookie summer movies all began.

Yes, two current and future legends passing in the night – Clark, the No. 1 pick of the WNBA Draft on April 15, and Skenes, the No. 1 pick of the Major League Baseball Draft last July 9. Talk about stars crossing, and now they’re each off and running, though Clark’s path has been much more difficult so far.

Each are on bad teams. That happens when you’re the first pick of a draft. Ask former Alabama Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young of the Carolina Panthers.

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Clark is a versatile combination point and shooting guard with the 1-7 Indiana Fever, which has the second-worst record in the league. … Skenes is an 100 mph strikeout artist and starting pitcher for the 26-30 Pittsburgh Pirates, who are in fourth place in the five-team National League Central division. But each still shines brightly. 

Clark, who turned 22 last Jan. 22, had the best and most complete game of her young career Tuesday night in front of another sold-out crowd of 16,013 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. She scored a WNBA career-high 30 points with six assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots in an 88-82 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, who are only 2-4.

“I just played with an aggressive mindset,” Clark said. “That was the biggest thing — to play downhill the best I could. We did some good things, and then we just kind of shot ourselves in the foot.” 

Despite a slow start and having to shake off an ankle injury, Clark is still 13th in the WNBA in scoring with 17. 1 points a game, second in 3-pointers with 21 and fourth in assists with 6.3 a game. She has also put up very good numbers in two other statistical categories usually dominated by inside, less all-around players. At just six feet tall, Clark is 12th in blocked shots with 1.1 a game and 28th in rebounding with 5.4 a game. She has struggled with turnovers, though, averaging 5.5 a game against better defenses than she saw at Iowa when she broke Pete Maravich’s all-time career NCAA scoring record set in 1970.

She averaged 32 points a game last season at Iowa and 28 for her career and has continued with her patented, logo 3-pointer that she made famous at Iowa. 

“I think everybody’s physical with me,” she droned with her head down at the post game press conference. “They get away with things probably other people don’t. It’s tough, but it’s a very physical game. That’s just professional basketball.”

Clark has also complained of having to talk to media members more than her own family, but that is the new WNBA, which Clark alone has changed drastically as far as historic attendance marks – even for preseason games – and record television ratings. Clark’s WNBA regular season debut at the Connecticut Sun on ESPN2 on May 14 was the most watched WNBA game since 2001, drawing an average of 2.13 million viewers. She shouldn’t complain too much, either, as she has signed historic endorsement deals for a woman with Nike at $28 million and another lucrative one with Wilson.

Skenes’ rookie signing bonus was the largest in MLB history at $9.2 million, but he seems to be having much more fun. Of course, he is a starting pitcher, so he only plays about once a week. And he has not had to deal with the consistent, ill-based criticism from racially biased media that has confronted Clark, who has also had to withstand obvious jealousy from present and past WNBA stars. Tiger Woods survived the same type attacks when he took over the PGA Tour in 1997 at just 21, and Clark has handled it just like Woods – like a calm and cool pro.

Skenes has not had to deal with the glare of the media or the wrath of present and past MLB pitching greats. They’re more supportive, mature and professional. He has also not yet pitched on national television, which has not been a thing in MLB for decades. MLB is all about local TV affiliates. He got to spend his 22nd birthday Wednesday afternoon, winning his second game in his fourth MLB start, then enjoying the simple pleasures.

He struck out nine and allowed three hits, two runs and one walk through six innings in a 10-2 victory over the Tigers at a largely empty Comerica Park in Detroit. Unlike Clark, there is little pressure on Skenes, who is being handled carefully with pitch limits and early exits from games for preservation, not because the other team is hitting him.

He improved to 2-0 on the season with a 2.45 earned run average and 30 strikeouts in 22 innings.

“I heard we’ve got Chick-fil-A on the plane,” Skenes said after the game. “I’ll be crushing some of that.”

Skenes has crushed MLB hitters as if he’s Nolan Ryan in his prime. He leads all Pirates’ pitchers with the lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) at 0.91. In the second start of his MLB career on May 17, he won his first game with a six-inning no-hitter of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field with 11 strikeouts and one walk. He would be 4-0 with just average performances from the Pittsburgh bullpen, which blew two large leads after he left the game.

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He also has his version of Clark’s patented logo three. It’s his self-titled “splinker,” a combination of a split-finger fastball and a sinker. 

“His split, or whatever he calls it, was really good,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said admirably. “It’s really effective and really impactful.”

Skenes has had an advantage over Clark to get off to a faster start. It’s called the minor leagues, and Skenes did his time there late last summer and through the past spring. As a result, MLB has not been as significant of an adjustment. In many ways, it’s like he’s still rocking the college baseball world at LSU, which he led to the national championship last season. He broke Ben McDonald’s SEC season strikeout record that had stood since 1989 with 209 in 2023 to lead the nation and finished No. 1 with 15.3 strikeouts a game. He finished 13-2 with a 1.69 earned run average for No. 2 in the country. 

Clark was the first pick of the WNBA Draft after a spectacular career at Iowa in which the Hawkeyes reached the national championship game in 2023 and ‘24. … Skenes was the first pick of the MLB after a spectacular season at LSU in which the Tigers won the national championship less than three months after LSU’s women’s team with Angel Reese beat Iowa and Clark for that national title. 

After the Indiana Fever selected Clark with the first pick, she flew to Indianapolis for her introductory press conference at Gainbridge Fieldhouse two days later on Wednesday, April 17. … On that same day, Skenes watched his Indianapolis Indians teammates from the dugout beat St. Paul, 1-0, in a Triple-A minor league game at Victory Field – less than two miles away from Gainbridge.

The next day, Skenes threw his fourth straight scoreless start, holding St. Paul to one hit through three and a third innings with eight strikeouts as Indianapolis won 6-5 at Victory Field. 

On May 8, the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted Skenes from Indianapolis to the Major Leagues after Skenes blew through his seven starts for Indianapolis with a 0.99 earned run average and 45 strikeouts in 27 and a third innings.

He and girlfriend Livvy Dunne, who was on the LSU gymnastics team that won the national championship on April 20, missed their flight from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh. So they drove the six hours from Indy to Pittsburgh.

Amazingly, just as Skenes’ time in Indianapolis ended, Clark was on the clock there the very next day. On May 9, she made her Indianapolis debut in an 83-80 preseason win over the Atlanta Dream at Gainbridge in front of 13,028 – an unheard of crowd for the WNBA preseason and likely a record. … Two days later on Saturday, May 11, Skenes made his Major League Debut in front of more than 30,000 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which drew just 16,454 the night before.

All Skenes did was throw nine of the 10 fastest pitches recorded at that point in the 2024 season and left the game in the fifth with seven strikeouts and a 6-1 lead.

And Caitlin and Paul were off.

Clark’s next game is tonight at home against the 4-3 Seattle Storm (7 p.m., Amazon Prime). … Skenes’ next scheduled start will be against the National League West leading Los Angeles Dodgers (36-22) at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (6:40 p.m., SportNet-LA, SportNet-PIT, MLB Network).

On Saturday, look for another Caitlin Clark TV ratings bonanza as the Fever will host the 2-3 Chicago Sky and Clark-nemesis Angel Reese (12 p.m., ESPN). … Skenes’ Pirates will be playing at Toronto (3:07 p.m., Sportsnet-PIT, TVA Sports).

Maybe, Paul will be watching like the rest of us.

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