Tough Coach

Another winning season ends for Pat Murphy and his baseball team. Now, it's ASU management's turn at bat

Figueroa says she hadn't laughed that hard in years.

Almost every Monday night in the Murphy backyard (which the coach has dubbed The Sandlot), neighborhood kids and family friends gather with their parents. Craig Counsell and his family, and ASU women's basketball coach Charli Turner-Thorne and her family are among the regulars.

It's a child's fantasyland, what with a miniature baseball infield, a manual scoreboard on a concrete retaining wall, a basketball court, and decent lights.

ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy
Peter Scanlon
ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy
Coach Murphy keeps in close contact with his players.
Peter Scanlon
Coach Murphy keeps in close contact with his players.

Murphy alternates throwing soft baseballs to the little ones with one of his baseball staffers or players who happen to be on hand. The kids obviously love the tough-guy coach, even when he pretends to be peeved at them for not swinging the bat properly.

The burgers and hot dogs come later.

A prime example of the "new" Murphy (please don't even try to suggest to his ballplayers that he's going soft) came against Cal State-Fullerton in last year's super-regional playoff.

Murphy ordered Zechry Zinicola to intentionally walk a Fullerton batter in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the game tied and the potential winning run on third base.

But an umpire stunningly called a balk on Zinicola, allegedly for not coming to a complete stop before he delivered the pitch.

That automatically allowed the winning run to score.

It was an unthinkable way to lose, and no one in attendance would have been the least surprised to see Murphy (or any other coach with a pulse) to come unglued.

Murphy somehow maintained his composure.

"I know I'm an asshole, and I wanted to act like an asshole after that guy hosed us," he says, "but I just couldn't be an asshole with my kid watching me from a few feet away. If that's a sign of growing up, I guess I'm growing up. Holy shit!"

Sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman's explanation of the telltale moment is to the point: "Murph wanted his son to see the father he wanted him to see. That's a beautiful thing. In the past, he knee-jerked everything."

By the way, the Sun Devils swept the next two games at Fullerton and made it to the College World Series in Omaha.

It's a few days before ASU leaves for Houston and the tough regional headed by Rice University, the number-one team in the nation in most polls.

Murphy watches from the dugout as his squad goes through its paces, commenting loudly whenever he feels the spirit.

"It's a beautiful thing, a nicely turned double play," he tells his infielders. "No one's in a hurry. Moving like ballerinas. I mean that in a good way."

He takes pitcher Pat Bresnehan aside and gives him a pep talk:

"God gave you a gift with that body and that arm, but you can't throw your shit right over the middle of the plate. Think about throwing filth."

He bellows out to no in particular, "Tournament team! Whoo-hoo! Now you can officially be prima donnas. I can't wait to kick you out of practice and get some coffee and bagels. You're all spoiled kids. Where are the street kids?"

One of ASU's third basemen tries in vain to scoop up a ball barehanded.

"Hey, we're gonna be playing the number-one team in the country," the coach yells over at him. "Bare hand ain't gonna help you. Only time a bare hand is good is after midnight."

That one cracks everyone up.

Murphy opens a greeting card, with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, circa 1860.

He reads it aloud for everyone within earshot to hear:

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

"You guys hear that?" he asks his team. "Whoooh! Tiny matters! Now that's something to fuckin' think about!"

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