CENTRAL ISLIP, NY — Daniel Murphy seemed out over the grass at Fairfield Properties Ballpark, the place the Long Island Ducks had been practising beneath cloudy skies. “Baseball is a good looking sport,” he mentioned, “and it makes individuals do peculiar issues.”
Murphy would know. A 3-time All-Star who performed his final Major League Baseball sport in 2020, he’s making an attempt a comeback with the Ducks, whose 126-game season is scheduled to start on Friday with a highway sport in North Carolina. Murphy, together with another lengthy pictures, intends to grind it out within the Atlantic League regardless of being 38 and having earned almost $80 million in a 12-season main league profession.
The objective, for Murphy and the opposite acquainted names on the Ducks’ roster, is easy: Get again to the majors.
The Atlantic League, which has been lively since 1998, is a spot of optimism and experimentation. The groups are independently owned, however the league is a companion of MLB and has usually served as a testing floor for brand new strategies and concepts, like greater bases, a pitching rubber that was pushed again a foot and so-called robotic umps — a model of MLB’s proposed system of automating the calls of balls and strikes.
But on the coronary heart of the league are its gamers, most of whom couldn’t minimize it on the main league stage or by no means made it there within the first place. That is the place Murphy stands out. At his peak, he was a star making greater than $108,000 a sport. In the Atlantic League, the utmost allowable wage is $3,000 a month. The league’s different gamers are dreaming of a profession that Murphy already had.
A strong hitter and second baseman for the majority of his tenure with the Mets, he had a breakout stretch within the crew’s run to the 2015 World Series. Utilizing a dramatically reworked swing, he set a serious league document by homering in six consecutive playoff video games.
On the heels of his success, he signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Washington Nationals and took his sport to a different stage. As the face of baseball’s launch angle revolution, he made back-to-back All-Star Games, led the National League in doubles twice and completed second to Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs for the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2016.
After a commerce to the Cubs and two disappointing years with the Colorado Rockies, Murphy, at 35, instantly confronted the second each athlete fears: The sport not wished him.
Murphy was recognized for prioritizing his household. His resolution to take parental go away for the delivery of considered one of his three youngsters was criticized by followers however led to an invite to the White House. So it was not shocking that his plans for retirement included taking faculty courses and spending extra time along with his two sons and his daughter. But baseball did not let go.
In his spare time, he discovered himself rewatching Ken Burns’s “Baseball,” a nine-part, 18-hour documentary on the historical past of America’s nationwide pastime. Murphy noticed the sport with contemporary eyes and wished again in.
“I did not notice how cool our sport was,” Murphy mentioned on the Ducks’ Fan Fest on Saturday. He added, “I feel once you’re in it, and also you’re attempting to be as productive as you possibly can and pretty much as good a teammate as you will be, and a husband and a father, I underestimated simply how cool our sport was. and the way cool the blokes had been who performed earlier than me.”
In a league recognized for its improvements, Murphy’s comeback try will include an experiment of his personal, which was impressed by watching his youngsters play baseball.
“I noticed the best way my youngsters moved,” he mentioned. “My swing was not the identical as theirs. They appeared to swing it with their entire physique. I used to be most likely a bit extra of a hand swinger. It gave the impression to be just like the best way Ted Williams and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth swung the bat. They seemed like they performed like youngsters. So I’m going to attempt to play like a baby.”
In bringing that new swing to the Ducks, Murphy selected a tough path again to baseball’s largest stage. But it’s one which labored for different former MLB stars, together with Dontrelle Willis and Carlos Baerga, who parlayed late-career stints with the Ducks into transient returns to the majors. Overall, the Ducks have despatched 27 gamers to the massive leagues of their 35-year historical past.
This 12 months, the Ducks’ roster encompasses a typical mix of younger, undrafted gamers; minor leaguers launched earlier than they earned a call-up; and some different main leaguers making an attempt comebacks. Adeiny Hechavarría, who performed for the Mets and the Yankees, is on the roster. So is Rubén Tejada, a teammate of Murphy’s on the 2015 Mets who had his leg damaged by a tough slide from the Dodgers’ Chase Utley in that postseason. Lew Ford, as soon as a strong participant with the Minnesota Twins, is on the crew, as is Al Alburquerque, a former Detroit Tigers reliever who final performed in MLB in 2017 and is finest recognized for the time a sports activities radio host insisted he didn’t exist. .
There was even hypothesis that the previous Mets pitcher Matt Harvey may be a part of the squad after his shocking performances for Italy within the World Baseball Classic.
For now, nonetheless, Murphy is the primary attraction.
On Saturday, Tommy Palamara, 13, of Setauket, NY, waited eagerly within the stands for Murphy to signal autographs. “I do know him due to the 2015 Mets,” he mentioned, earlier than admitting, “I used to be too younger to recollect it, however I’m instructed I watched him.”
Scott Nitz, a Mets fan and Ducks season-ticket holder from West Islip, NY, is worked up to cheer on Murphy this season. “He’s been on the prime. But he is at a stage now the place he is humble,” Nitz mentioned. “I feel it is nice that he got here again. I hope somebody picks him up, and I hope it is quick.”
Ducks Manager Wally Backman, himself a former second baseman for the Mets, thinks Murphy has pretty much as good an opportunity as anybody.
“He nonetheless has all of the bat pace,” Backman mentioned. “I do know the final 12 months he was with Colorado, he had a nasty hand, and he tried to play via it. I imagine simply from watching him play yesterday, with the National League bringing within the DH, I feel there will be a spot for him.”
And past Murphy’s personal objectives, Backman mentioned his expertise may make an enormous distinction for the Ducks’ youthful gamers.
“The older guys and the degrees they have been at, they don’t seem to be going to let these youthful guys out-hustle them,” Backman mentioned. “We noticed it yesterday when Murphy hit a ball down the right-field line and he needed to leg out a double, after which later he made a diving play at first base. That rubs off on the younger guys. They’ll bust their butt as a result of they see the work ethic within the older guys.”
Murphy, for his half, is attempting to concentrate on the journey.
“This is a brand-new journey,” he mentioned. “I feel I’ve received a little bit of baseball left in me, and I wish to discover out.”
Glancing at his youthful teammates, he added: “I nonetheless like base hits, although. It’s much more enjoyable once you get hits.”