- Associated Press - Sunday, August 17, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Jeff Murphy, a 19th-round pick out of the University of Nebraska, never made it past Double-A. Forced to retire early because of an Achilles injury, Murphy’s minor league career in the Cardinals organization lasted only five years, roughly 1,000 at bats.

Murphy, though, owns two World Series rings and a National League championship ring. Currently the Oklahoma City RedHawks bullpen catcher and catching coach, Murphy for 12 seasons worked under Tony LaRussa.

During his time with the Cardinals, they reached the playoffs eight times. St. Louis won the 2006 World Series versus Detroit and also won in 2011 when they twice were down to their final strike in Game 6 against Texas but rallied for an unforgettable 11-inning win that forced Game 7.

“You know you’ve reached the pinnacle when you see hard-nose, highly competitive players cry,” Murphy told The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/1sSmAt6 ).

Murphy, 43, is a baseball rarity. In addition to serving as the RedHawks bullpen catcher on homestands, something every major league team has on staff, Murphy also is an extra coach who mentors only catchers.

“Working in St. Louis with Yadier Molina and (manager) Mike Matheny he brings invaluable experience, two great catchers, which in turn is invaluable experience he passes along to your pitching staff,” said manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He’s an extra set of eyes.”

Murphy was out of baseball in 2012. Last season he served as the Astros catchers’ coach similar, to the role he had from in St. Louis from 2001-2011. This season he works with RedHawks catchers and makes trips to Houston’s other minor league affiliates when the RedHawks are on the road.

“He’s phenomenal, my mentor,” said RedHawks catcher Max Stassi. “He’s someone I can ask for help on anything. He’s been around some of the best in the game. I’m very fortunate to work with someone who has picked the brains of Yadier and Mike Matheny. He’s helped me tremendously.”

Murphy preaches visualization and being focused on every pitch.

“Nearly every one of these young kids coming out of high school or college nowadays, their coaches have been calling pitches for them,” Murphy said. “In the minor leagues, catchers call their own games.

“There’s a lot that goes into how a pitcher approaches each specific hitter. One of the big keys is being able to read your own pitchers.”

Because catchers are involved every pitch, learning the game is comparable to playing chess or solving a difficult math problem.

“It takes a lot of games to get really good at calling a game,” Murphy said. “A lot of it is retaining information and seeing things visually. You’re getting visual input from your pitcher and hitters. Maybe it’s how they swing on certain pitches or how they react. It might be something as simple as a flinch.”

Providing an example, Murphy described why a “show” pitch can be invaluable, preventing hitters from sitting on the fastball.

“Some pitchers have breaking balls but they’re not swing-and-miss breaking balls,” Murphy said. “That’s why you sometimes need to use that breaking pitch early in the count.”

Part of his job is dealing with the mental challenges of teaching catchers how to deal with a lengthy list of responsibilities aside from producing offensively, which is hitting coach Leon Roberts’ job.

“A catcher even has to know other managers’ tendencies,” Murphy said. “Some managers like to hit-and-run in certain situations. If I’m calling a game and there’s an above-average runner on first base he might be running. Catchers need to be aware of that before they call the pitch.

“One key is knowing each hitters’ weaknesses and his pluses. There is so much a catcher is thinking about and they really need to do all of it one pitch ahead of time. Catchers are sort of like being a pitching coach and a manager. To do that they need to relax, not get tense. The biggest thing is to pay attention to the game.”

Murphy’s job this season is similar to that of Tom Lawless, the Astros’ roving minor league infield instructor who filled in as interim manager for DeFrancesco when he was undergoing cancer treatments.

There are benefits, one being he gets to see more of his family. Murphy’s wife, Leah, and his son and two daughters live in St. Louis.

“I now understand why everyone says being a rover is the best job in baseball,” Murphy said. “I just got back from Quad Cities but I had a chance to stop off and see my family. Last year I didn’t get home all summer other than the All-Star break and a two-game series when the Astros were in St. Louis. Plus, this job is a lot of fun.”

His 18-year-old son Hunter just graduated from high school. He rodeos as a steer wrestler and team roper. His 9-year-old daughter Lilly is into horses, softball, soccer and swimming. His other daughter, 15-year-old Sadie is a high-level gymnast who recently won the balance beam in a seven-state regional event.

“She’s probably the best athlete in the family,” Murphy said. “When I was a player I sometimes played in front of 10,000 people. That never bothered me. But watching your kid you’re a nervous wreck. When she’s on the balance beam I don’t ever breathe during her entire routine.”

The first week of the season Murphy lived in the RedHawks’ parking lot in a trailer he drove from St. Louis after spring training. Before the second homestand he moved his trailer to former teammate Ryan Franklin’s house in Shawnee.

Concerning the two World Series rings, Murphy feels blessed to part of some memorable seasons in St. Louis.

“When you win it all, it’s so gratifying,” Murphy said. “You’ve accomplished something that the other 29 teams wish they could have achieved. When it all comes together and you win a world championship, it’s hard to describe how great that feels.”

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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