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Perfect Game USA: Pat Murphy, Mr. Sun Devil
Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
Release: 12/04/2006
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Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
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Dec. 4, 2006

By Jim McDonald, Pefect Game USA -

Above all else, Pat Murphy is a Sun Devil. And with that comes a dedication to keeping the Arizona State University baseball program squarely among the nation's elite, where it has resided since the 1960s and the days of Bobby Winkles.

 

Murphy has coached ASU since leaving Notre Dame to succeed the late Dr. Jim Brock in 1994. Since then, ASU has thrived amidst a national landscape more competitive than ever before. Twelve years into a tenure that already exceeds that of Winkles and appears headed toward longer that Brock's 23 seasons, Murphy has compiled an ASU record of 480-242-1 that includes a Pac 10 title and nine trips to the NCAA tournament (including seven in a row). Although he is still seeking his first national championship, Murphy has come close twice, leading the Sun Devils to a second-place finish to Pac-10 rival USC in 1998 and a third place finish in 2005.

 

But he had done more than simply coach the team to excellence. He has made ASU a full part of his life, as demonstrated earlier this year when it was announced that Murphy had donated $100,000 of his own money back to the program to help build a sports medicine facility dedicated to the memory of former Sun Devil football great and American hero Pat Tillman and his brother, Kevin, who played baseball under Murphy from 1997 through 1999. The brothers supported each other in all they did, including ASU baseball, and both developed a close relationship with Murphy, who carries the spirit of ASU baseball into the community.

 

"I'm very honored and privileged to be the head baseball coach at Arizona State University," says Murphy. "I'm fortunate to be a part of a program that touches so many people. The rich history and tradition of Sun Devil baseball includes all of the former student-athletes, coaches, fans and our incredible group of supporters. I realize how fortunate I am every day. Pat and Kevin Tillman exemplify teamwork, discipline, sacrifice and hard work. I'm very proud of our connection with these men and hope that the Tillman Room will serve as a source of inspiration for our student-athletes for years to come. Their story is very close to our program and I felt this was a fitting way to pay tribute and say `Thank You'."

From afar, the coaching job at ASU looks easy. The Sun Devils play in one of the nation's most prestigious conferences in a growing state synonymous with baseball because of the weather, the presence of scouts and players (active and retired) and Major League caliber facilities not just at ASU, but at the spring training complexes spread throughout the Phoenix Valley and Tucson. People expect Murphy and his Sun Devils to win; they usually do, but some people will never be fully satisfied. The pressure is always on.

 

Still, so many great players want to wear the Arizona State maroon and gold that one of the toughest jobs confronting Murphy is deciding who gets an opportunity and who does not. Recruiting at Arizona State is complex because some of the obvious choices undoubtedly will be drafted high and never set foot on campus. Through the years, that has included players like Robin Yount, Paul Konerko, Prince Fielder and Rich Harden, currently in the starting rotation with the Oakland A's. It will never change. And then others include players like catcher Tuffy Gosewisch (Phillies) and second baseman Steve Garrabrants (Diamondbacks) who emerged from relative obscurity to become stars at ASU and continue into the professional ranks. Even homerun hitter Jeff Larrish, who became an All American and a high draft choice of the Detroit Tigers was a walk-on.

 

Murphy does not like to decide who gets a chance and who does not. "If a good player wants to commit to us, I don't want to tell him that we don't have room," says Murphy, who relies on a vast network of high school coaches, former players and scouts along with the showcases to alert ASU to the players who can fit the "Sun Devil mold". Thus ASU can begin the fall with more players than possibly can be present in the spring. Still, there are benefits even if they do not make the initial cut at ASU itself. Andre Either, the exciting young outfielder for the Dodgers, spent a year at Chandler-Gilbert Community College before he made it back to Tempe for two years of stardom. Others thrive at the two-year schools and go elsewhere to finish their careers. Some take the field right away like last year's Pac 10 freshman of the year Ike Davis and still others emerge like Eric Sogard, who blossomed last year for ASU with a .353 average, nine homers and 50 runs batted in to earn All-Pac 10 accolades. His future only looks bright.

 

From an Arizona perspective, look for current freshman Raul Torrez out of Phoenix Brophy Prep to enjoy similar success over the next few years. From a national perspective, ASU will always be able to attract the likes of sophomore catcher Preston Paramore (Texas) who as a freshman hit .318 and was more than solid behind the plate and outfielder Colin Curtis (Washington State) who enjoyed three top-flight seasons in Tempe and now has a promising professional future in the New York Yankees organization

 

The constant in all of this is Murphy, who sincerely wants to help every player come through his program. But most of all, he wants to make Arizona State University baseball better and better each year. That is why he is a Sun Devil for life.

 

This column represents the thoughts and opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of Perfect Game.

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