The Interview Vault: Kyle Murphy

murphy interview vault.jpgMy original goal with The Interview Vault was to dig up recent interviews I’ve done with notable former LumberKings that were only heard once during a pregame show because they were on cassette tape (archaic, I’m aware). 

I had a few specific names in mind when I went searching back through my archives — guys like Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, Engel Beltre, etc. who have either reached the Major Leagues already or are poised to do just that.  But as you’ve seen with the last two editions, the stories of guys like K.C. Herren and Ian Gac can be just as compelling — if not more interesting — than the guys who shot right up to the Show.

Today’s story, that of former LumberKings’ outfielder Kyle Murphy, isn’t based on a high round draft selection or a rapid rise up the system.  It’s about a unique story, one that captured the interest of nearly an entire town and even prompted a bobblehead.  We’ll get to that part later.

Murphy was the Texas Rangers’ 19th-round selection in the 2007 June draft following his best collegiate season at the University of Kansas.  The 22-year-old junior college transfer hit .332 with 50 runs scored and 28 RBI in just 56 games for the Jayhawks, also exibiting a knack for base stealing (16-for-17 in attempts).  His first pro assignment came shortly after his June signing, and he’d go on to hit a combined .165 with five doubles, two triples, 20 runs scored and 10 RBI in 39 games between short-A Spokane and the Arizona League.

He didn’t begin the 2008 season with the LumberKings, but arrived in late June to replace struggling outfielder David Paisano.  Murphy made an immediate impact, hitting .316 (6-for-19) in his first five games.

Then, he headed home.  Not to Spokane on demotion, not to Arizona upon release, but to his actual home of Beloit, Wisconsin.  Clinton headed north to Beloit for a four-game series on July 1, and only Murphy could have known what a spectacle he’d cause.

Despite the presence of top prospects like Beltre, Moreland and Neftali Feliz, Murphy was the man with top billing when the team arrived at Pohlman Field.  Several local TV crews showed up for batting practice to get a look at him.  Sportswriters from Beloit and Milwaukee lined up to get an interview.  The Beloit Snappers’ front office was already predicting a capacity crowd.  All for essentially a stand-in outfielder.

An outfielder who just happened to be a local legend, having achieved statewide accolades as a senior at nearby F.J. Turner High School.  Murphy hit .483 with five home runs, 24 RBI and 14 steals in just 20 games as he earned All-State honors.  His ties to the Snappers franchise ran even deeper — he spent several seasons as a batboy for the team in the mid-90′s.

Everything seemed to fall into place to allow Murphy that rare opportunity to play in front of friends and family.  Had Paisano not hit .130 in 18 games, he wouldn’t have been with the club.  Had Miguel Alfonzo avoided a slump, he might not have been in the lineup.  But those factors, included with the awareness of manager Mike Micucci, allowed Murphy to play in three of the four games that series.

The Pohlman Field crowd was dense with transplanted LumberKings fans that July 1 evening, and Murphy was in the starting lineup.  He’d go 1-for-4 with a single batting out of the #9 spot, but would provide a much bigger highlight with his arm.  With the Kings leading 4-2 in the fourth inning, Snappers’ right-fielder Mark Dolenc slapped a one-out single to right-center field.  Murphy came on from right field to cut the ball off and noticed Ozzie Lewis hustling around third.  He delivered a perfect strike to catcher Jose Felix, nailing Lewis at the plate and preserving the two-run lead.  Ultimately, Beloit would surge in the next three innings to win, 7-5.

My interview with Kyle, the subject of today’s post, followed the next day.  We talked about his opportunity to play in front of friends and family, literally sleeping in his own bed just minutes from the ballpark, his experiences as a Snappers batboy including memories of Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jose Valentin’s rehab stint, his early time with the Kings and more.

Listen: 
Kyle Murphy Returns to Beloit (2008).mp3 

Murphy started in center field the next day and went 0-for-3 in a 2-1 loss, but would bounce back for the third game of the series.  Batting eighth, he singled twice in four at-bats and drove home Cristian Santana during a five-run ninth inning, giving the Kings a much-needed 7-2 victory. 

Micucci would rest Murphy for the final game, giving the start to Alfonzo.  He’d go on to seal a series split, hitting a solo home run in the second inning to support Beavan’s seven-inning gem in a 4-0 win.

So what’s happened to Murphy since that series?  Unfortunately, those three games were likely the highlight for him as he stepped back into a reserve role.  He hit .229 with four extra-base hits, eight runs scored, seven RBI and five steals in nine attempts over 42 total games during the regular season, then went 0-for-1 in one playoff game.  Following the year, the Rangers released him.

Murphy didn’t catch on elsewhere, but didn’t leave the game either.  In fact, he was present at Pohlman Field a year later to watch the LumberKings battle the Snappers during his own commemorative bobblehead night.

He joined me in the booth that day to talk about his new bobblehead immortality, what he’s been up to since leaving the Rangers system, his plans for the future and plenty more.

Listen to the interview for the first time since it aired live:
Kyle Murphy In-Game Interview 6.14.09.mp3 

As far as I’ve seen, Kyle hasn’t resurfaced in professional baseball since his time in Clinton.  Even if his pro career is over, his return to his hometown of Beloit will be remembered as one of the most unique and interesting stories in a 2008 season filled with them.

-DL

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