Sept. 29, 2006
By Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com -
I'll say this about Pat Murphy: he knows how to break through the boredom and make things interesting. His stern face hides a beautifully dry sense of humor. One that you're kind of surprised about, considering he's a former boxer turned successful college baseball coach.
Last year in Omaha, one of my favorite moments of the whole College World Series was when I asked him a question in the post-game press conference after ASU's opening round loss to Nebraska: "Coach, I know you have that boxer's mentality, is that something you pass on to your team in a win-or-die situation like you guys are facing now?"
Murph leered at me for about three seconds and then, ignoring the baseball portion of my question, broke out with, "I'm sizing you up right now." The room broke into laughter. Continuing with his boxing talk, Coach said, "What are you, 6'2, 6'3? That's good, `coz I'll work inside on you and bust your ribs."
I loved it. Even though Murphy is an intense-looking guy, I've found that he's one of the few coaches out there who knows how to have fun with the media.
So I looked forward to catching up with him when his Sun Devils came to UCLA last weekend, just to talk about his team, their season and touch a little bit on last year's great run in the NCAAs. Oh, and of course, a little bit about boxing as well.
About an hour and a half before the Sunday game was to start, baseball sports information director Randy Policar was able to hook me up with Coach.
Murph also had a nice opening as we shook hands.
Coach Murphy: Hey, Tom Hanks. Anyone ever tell you that you look like Tom Hanks?
Me: Yeah. From time to time [although I don't see it, I guess some people do]. I've been getting that ever since high school.
Coach Murphy: We've talked before, right?
Me: Yeah well, back during the College World Series I was the guy that asked you those boxing-related questions in the post-game press conferences.
Coach Murphy: Oh yeah. Come on, let's go down here so we can hear.
[Trying to get away from the loud music blaring out of the Jackie Robinson Stadium sound-system, we start walking down the right field line.]
Me: Actually, Coach, of all the people I hoped to talk with this season, you were at the top, because I wanted to ask you about last year's post-season run you guys had. And how well you handled that Game One loss at Fullerton in the Super Regionals. I mean, weren't you really steaming inside over that balk call?
Coach Murphy: It's mainly because of that little kid right there, man. [He points at his 6-year old son, Kai, who is playing pepper with an assistant coach]. You can't lose your cool in front of him. Gotta set a good example. [laughs]
Me: Was that balk call the weirdest ending you've ever been a part of in baseball?
Coach Murphy: Yeah, it was a strange ending, but as a coach, you know, the ending either pierces your heart or you're elated. No matter how big the situation is, it's all the same - every one of them. And I've been through a ton of losses. So, it was just one of those things that happens.
Me: Did you have any trepidation about doing that on-camera interview immediately afterward? I mean, you seemed great about it, which I thought was pretty cool.
Coach Murphy: You know, this is a game that I enjoy watching and I enjoy being a fan of too, so I feel I have the responsibility to the fans to be truthful, to be honest, ya' know? It actually helped me. It helped me control my emotions, because emotions are the one thing that get in the way. They get in the way of being a good example, and that's what I am, an example to these kids.
Me: That's an interesting point you bring up - and not that I know you personally from a hill of beans - but it seems from my perspective that you've loosened up a bit more the last few years. Is that a fair assessment?
Coach Murphy: You know, I've been asked that a lot. So it must be true. [laughs]. You know, what I probably equate it to is my son. That's pretty important to me [he points down to Kai again, who is still throwing the ball around].
Me: Hey, he's a lefty. That's a pretty damn good arm he's got!
Coach Murphy: Oh yeah. And I want to be a great example for him. Because when you start thinking about what's important, I've had a lot of great things happen for me in my career at a young age and I start realizing how lucky I am and how fortunate I am. And I'm still a long way from being the kind of teacher and example I want to be, but it's a start.
Me: A few things about the team. After losing players like Larish, Buck and Gosewich from last year, did it kind of surprise you how well you guys have played this year?
Coach Murphy: You know, I'm not so happy with how we're playing. I am happy that these guys have come together and they're a team. We're not great, but I like having kids that come together as a team, it makes anything possible. I mean, we've played a great schedule and it's allowed us a chance to win some games. Sometimes you don't know when kids are going to grow up and I think we've grown as a team. But we still have a ways to go.
Coach Murphy: Yeah, I think it is. I've always been scared to put freshmen out there. You know, when we played for the national championship in '98 we had two freshmen in there full-time, Casey Meyers and Jeff Phelps, and they were special players - really bright. They weren't wildly talented, they were just really bright kids and knew how to play baseball. But these kids [he points out at his players warming up], they've got some talent. Not dominant-type talent, but they've shown some maturity, too. Paramore is special. He's been the biggest shock.
Me: Even more so than Ike Davis?
Coach Murphy: Yeah. I knew Ike could hit. He's not having a great year, but he'll figure it out.
Me: I saw you guys against Houston early this year, that Saturday game where you beat them 11-0, and
Coach Murphy: Oh you mean that day where we faced (Brad) Lincoln?
Me: Yeah. You guys really roped him. I was shocked.
Coach Murphy: Yeah, I was too. [Laughs].
Me: Okay, this is one of those media-type questions that I hate, but, do you think this team has the same kind of make-up or character, or are they driven and determined like last year's team was?
Coach Murphy: We haven't been challenged like that yet. We haven't been knocked on our ass long enough to figure that out. I look at it this way; you go through a 56-game season and you're bound to get really knocked on your ass once or twice. I want to see these guys get knocked on their ass and see what happens. See how they react.
Me: As far as offensively, is this as deep of a team as you've had?
Coach Murphy: Yeah. I like the depth we have. Nobody is ever satisfied with their pitching depth, but I like the numbers we're using offensively. I mean, we basically use 23/24 guys.
Me: What's your biggest concern going down the stretch? What would you like to see your team do?
Coach Murphy: [He lets out a short laugh] I don't think they realize how close they are to having a really good season. They don't realize where they're at, ya' know? Right now, they're just my hemorrhoids. [Laughs]
Me: You want me to print that?
Coach Murphy: Only if you want.
Me: All right, if you want this question to be "off the record" tell me, but what if the NCAA Committee matches you guys up with Fullerton again this year?
Coach Murphy: Well, it will be an example that they just don't give a damn. [pause for me to laugh. Murphy didn't.] You know I'm going to be on that committee next year.
Me: Oh good! No kiddin'? Maybe you guys will finally get some better treatment now.
Coach Murphy: Yeah. But I keep having this dream that I'm in this room and I'm talking, but nobody's listening. I'm just talking away and nobody's paying any attention. They're like, "You're on the committee but you don't have anything to say."
Me: [Laughing] That's one bad dream. Okay, how `bout this... If you and I were to put the gloves on, how soon would it be before you put me to the mat?
Coach Murphy: [Laughs, shaking his head] Listen, I learned a long time ago not to under-estimate anyone, man. I wouldn't know.
Me: If you wouldn't have gone into coaching, would you have tried boxing more seriously?
Coach Murphy: You know what my problem was with boxing? When I was young I could beat anybody - the crazy white kid, you know? Then when I got older, I was still the crazy white kid, but I found that those guys were now fighting to hurt me, not just to box. I never fought to hurt anybody, I was too much of a softie. I wasn't fighting to hurt anybody. But these guys were fighting to kill you. That's when I said, "Man, I hope one of these other sports works out." [laughs while wiping his brow, as if he's relieved]
Me: No offense, Coach, but I never thought I'd hear you say you were a softie.
Coach Murphy: No. I was. Seriously, It's a great sport for testing your will and realizing what courage means. Once you get inside those ropes it's just you and your opponent. It takes a lot to get in there. You don't realize the small number of people who would be willing to even get in the ring and actually put their nuts on the line.
Me: Oh yeah. I could never do it.
Coach Murphy: Well it hurts. People take it lightly, but boxing hurts. You know, I'm proud I got in there. I'm not proud of how good I was, but I was proud that I actually got between the ropes.
Me: That's cool. Coach, that's about it. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
Coach Murphy: Hey, it's really a pleasure man.
Me: You know, it wouldn't kill me to see you guys in Omaha again, `coz at least I know the post-game interviews would be more fun.
Coach Murphy: [Laughs] Thank you. Good seeing you.
With that, I shook Coach Murphy's hand one last time and realized, man, this dude's got some meaty mitts. I'd hate to have to face him with just a mouthpiece between his gloves and the last bit of my senses.
Thankfully, we only met in an interview room.