Blue Jays prospect Murphy a cult hero Down Under
Catcher hit two grand slams in helping Australian club win first Asia Series title
MELBOURNE, Australia -- There are many unique stories in the increasingly global game of baseball, but it's not every day that you find an American who plays for a Canadian franchise representing Australia in Taiwan.
But a few weeks ago, that was Jack Murphy, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound catcher selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 31st round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Princeton University.
Currently in the midst of his second season with the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League, Murphy will next be representing the World team in the 2013 ABL All-Star Game to be held on Dec. 18. Sporting a .309 batting average, four doubles and eight RBIs, the 25-year-old is locked in through his first 15 games played.
The All-Star nod is the second in as many years for Murphy, and is the latest in a series of successes that he's found while playing Down Under. The Cavalry were 2012-13 ABL champions, winning the title for the first time in franchise history, and this year they've taken it to the next level.
The current Canberra club is coming off a historic effort in which it became the first Australian team to win the Asia Series -- a tournament featuring the Australian, Chinese, European, Japanese and Korean champions.
Prior to 2013, Australia had never won a game in the tournament. Now, they've won it all, and the man with the savage mustache was at the center of it all.
"It was awesome," said Murphy before a Cavalry game in early December. "It was pretty obvious from the get-go that the only people that believed we could even win a game in that series were the guys in our locker room. For us to be able to win the whole thing was an incredible experience. To see how baseball is played a little bit differently there and how we stacked up was great for the league, great for Canberra, and I think it was great for baseball in general."
Murphy did his part, delivering a game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning of the semifinal game, and adding another grand slam in the championship game, a 14-4 rout of the Taiwanese champion Uni-President Lions. In the process, he became a bit of a cult hero, something that had happened in Canberra a year before.
"I think all of that comes with winning; with playing well, and with winning," said the humble Murphy, who was named MVP of the tournament.
"I wasn't playing very well the first two or three games of the [Asia] Series, but then I had an opportunity to get a couple of big hits, and that stuff happens when you win games. I try to be as cordial and as nice and friendly to people as possible, but if you're on a losing team and you're not playing well, it doesn't matter how nice you are -- you aren't really going to connect with people."
Murphy played exceptionally well with Canberra last season, posting a .304 average with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 41 regular-season games. The season served Murphy in a number of ways, and it previewed a Minor League season that brought the backstop one step closer to his ultimate goal.
Spending the majority of the 2013 Minor League season with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Murphy received two brief callups to Triple-A Buffalo, where he appeared in just three games but relished the atmosphere.
Playing in 59 total games, the switch-hitter batted a combined .220 with 23 RBIs in 2013.
"It was up and down," Murphy said of his performance this past season.
"I would have liked to have played a bit better," he added, before explaining how he goes into each new season. "The goals I set for myself at the beginning of every year are to stay healthy and to move up. If you stay healthy and you play hard, then you usually give yourself an opportunity to move up -- especially at the catching position. To finish the year in Buffalo was awesome. It was a really incredible experience, and I'll just set the same goal for myself for next year -- stay healthy and see what happens."
In the meantime, he's working on rounding out his game, mixing in some reps at first base with his time behind the plate.
"I'm working on getting better at first, getting better behind the plate and just working on my overall approach at the plate," said Murphy.
"And just trying to have a little bit of fun while I'm here," he added with a grin.
Having spent the entire 2012 season with the Class A Dunedin Blue Jays before his first stint in Canberra, Murphy hasn't had a true offseason in more than two years -- something he considered when deciding whether or not to come back to Australia for another year. Ultimately, he couldn't pass up the opportunity, due in large part to an insatiable desire to play baseball.
"When they asked me to come back this year, I was hesitant because it was two full years of playing," Murphy explained. "But when I'm home for three weeks [after the Minor League season], I start getting the itch to start playing again."
An Ivy League graduate, Murphy is also keenly aware of the bigger picture.
"You've got such a small window of opportunity to play baseball and you never know when it's going to end, so I just try to go and see how far it can take me," he said. "So far it's taken me almost all the way around the world; so I couldn't be more thankful for that."
While Murphy could talk baseball forever, the broad-shouldered backstop shied away from discussing the implications of representing so many nations each time he steps on a baseball diamond. Still, one gets the sense that what he's doing isn't lost on him.
"I guess more than anything I think what brought me back here is how good the people are, how genuine they are," Murphy said.
"They love baseball and there's so much room for growth here in Australia. I'd just like to be a part of that."
Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.