CENTRAL ISLIP, NY — Daniel Murphy overlooks the lawn at Fairfield Properties Ballpark where the Long Island Ducks were practicing under an overcast sky. “Baseball is a beautiful game,” he said.
Murphy would know. The three-time All-Star, who played his final game of Major League Baseball in 2020, is attempting a comeback with the Ducks, who began their 126-game season Friday in a road game in North Carolina. And despite making nearly $80 million in his 12-season major league career, he’s going to make it through the Atlantic League, along with a few other long shots.
The goal for Murphy and the other familiar names on the Ducks roster is simple. It’s about going back to the majors.
Active since 1998, the Atlantic League is a place of optimism and experimentation. Although the team is independently owned, the league is his MLB partner, serving as a testing ground for new methods and ideas, such as bigger bases, pushing his feet back, pitching his rubber, and so-called robotic amps. came. of MLB’s proposed system to automate the calling of balls and strikes.
But at the heart of the league are the players, most of whom either never reached the level of the major leagues or never got there. That’s what Murphy is all about. In his prime, he was a star earning over $108,000 per game. In the Atlantic League, his monthly salary cap is $3,000. Other players in the league dream of the career Murphy already had.
A solid hitter and second baseman for most of his tenure with the Mets, he made the breakout stretch in the team’s run to the 2015 World Series. He set a new major league record for home runs in six straight games.
Following his success, he took his game to another level with a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Washington Nationals.as the face of Hitting angle revolution in baseballhe made back-to-back All-Star Games, led the National League in doubles twice, and finished second to Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant in the 2016 NL Most Valuable Player Award.
After a trade to the Cubs and two years of disappointment with the Colorado Rockies, Murphy, 35, suddenly faced a moment that every athlete fears.
Murphy was known to put his family first. His decision to take parental leave for the birth of one of his three children was criticized by fans but led to an invitation to the White House. So it’s no surprise that his plans for retirement included taking college classes and spending more time with his two sons and daughter. But he didn’t give up on baseball.
In my spare time, I found myself rewatching Ken Burns’ Baseball, a nine-part, 18-hour documentary on the history of America’s national pastime. Murphy saw the game with fresh eyes and wanted to come back.
“I had no idea how cool our game was,” Murphy said at Saturday’s Ducks Fan Fest. He added: And how cool the people who played before me were. ”
In a league known for innovation, Murphy’s comeback attempts include his own experiments inspired by watching his kids play baseball.
“I watched the movements of the children,” he said. “My swing wasn’t the same as theirs. They looked like they were playing like kids, so I try to play like a kid.”
In bringing that new swing to the Ducks, Murphy took the difficult route back to baseball’s biggest arena. But it worked for other former MLB stars such as Dontrell Willis and Carlos Baerga, who had a late career stint with the Ducks and a brief return to the majors. sent his 27 players to the big leagues in his 35-year history.
This year, the Ducks roster features a typical blend of young, undrafted players. A minor leaguer released before getting a callup. and a few other major leaguers trying to make a comeback. Adini Hechavarria, who played for the Mets and Yankees, is on the roster. Ruben Tejada, Murphy’s teammate with the Mets in 2015, also broke his leg in a hard slide off Chase Utley of the Dodgers that postseason. Also on the team is former Detroit Tigers reliever Al Albuquerque, who last played MLB in 2017 and is best known as a sports radio host at the time. he claimed not to exist.
There was even speculation that former Mets pitcher Matt Harvey would join the team after his incredible performance for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
But for now, Murphy, who won 3-4 on Friday, is the main attraction.
Last weekend, 13-year-old Tommy Palamara of Setauket, New York eagerly waited in the stands for Murphy to sign autographs. “I know him for the 2015 Mets,” he admitted, before adding, “I was too young to remember it, but I’ve been told I saw him.
Scott Nitz, a Mets fan and Ducks season ticket holder from West Islip, New York, said he was thrilled to root for Murphy this season. He’s reached a level of humility now,” Nitz said. “I think it’s great that he’s back. I hope someone picks him up and I hope it’s soon.”
Ducks manager Wally Buckman, a former second baseman for the Mets, thinks Murphy has the best chance.
“He still has all the bat speed,” Backman said. “Last year when he was in Colorado, I know he had a bad hand and tried to get over it. , so I think he has a place.”
Beyond Murphy’s own goals, Backman said his experience could make a big difference to the Ducks’ young players.
“With the older players and their level, they’re not going to let the younger players pass them,” Backman said. Then he made a diving play at first base.It rubs against the young guys.They will see the work ethic of older men and break their butts.”
Murphy is trying to focus on his journey.
“This is a whole new adventure,” he said. “I think I have a little bit of baseball left in me, and I want to find it.”
Glancing at his young teammate, he added: It’s much more fun when it hits. ”