It was my first time in a big-league clubhouse.
This was the end of the 2008 season. The Mets were hosting the Cubs in a key end-of-season contest in the final weeks of Shea Stadium's existence. Citi Field was rising in center field behind the old barn.
I was there as a reporter for the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, where I covered the Mets' Double-A affiliate. Four players from that years' B-Mets team had been promoted to the Mets and were playing key roles, and I went down for a few days to do a series on them. Nick Evans was hitting the ball fairly well. Bobby Parnell and Jon Niese were new additions to the Mets' pitching staff. I spoke to all three of them before the game.
The fourth wasn't in the clubhouse before the game.
In the clubhouse after the game, I was nervous. I had been warned, pretty specifically, that there was an established protocol to covering big-league baseball. Pre-game access in the clubhouse was for feature stories, for advance stuff, for people like me. Post-game access was for the beat writers, columnists and TV reporters doing their daily work. There's nothing more annoying to a beat guy on deadline than someone like me there to do a weekend feature and taking up valuable time and space. Because of this, and because I hadn't talked to Murphy before the game, I was a little anxious. Even though other writers had told me I'd be fine, I wasn't sure.
The horde of NY reporters surrounded Murphy around his locker after the game. He had led off the ninth inning of a tie game with a triple (prompting Mike Vaccaro to find me in the press box, slap me on my shoulders and gleefully shout "He just wrote your story for you!"), but the Mets had stranded him before eventually losing to the Cubs in extra innings. I hung in back of the back, out of the way of the daily reporters, letting them do their thing.
After a few minutes, the horde broke up, moving to other players. Murphy - whom I had covered every day for five months - saw me. He gave me a little friendly nod of recognition. With no one else around, after a brutal loss in his first big-league season, we talked for about 20 minutes about his big-league experiences, about him living at the Holiday Inn within sight of Shea.
It was a professional kindness I've never forgotten.
At the end of the interview, I thanked him for his time. He winked and nodded.
Murphy's had a solid, if at times, frustrating career in the big leagues since then. He said some really unkind things about gay players earlier this season, but outside of the Mets' circle, he's been kind of anonymous as a player.
But now, he's having quite the post season. Perhaps you've heard.
What I remember about Murphy from my time covering him in Binghamton was his seriousness, his professionalism. He was there to do a job, and he did it every day. He took his work very seriously, but he was always friendly and kind. He always agreed to an interview and was honest in his answers.
And he loved to hit.
Man, did he love to hit. I never saw a baseball player who loved hitting more than Murphy. I've met few people who love to do anything as much as Daniel Murphy loved to hit.
I worked on an aborted story about players' walk-up music. His was the opening chords to "Shipping off to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys. Most players explained their songs by saying it was their favorite singer or band, or made them smile. For Murphy, was a cue, a jolt to focus. "It's hitting time" is what he told himself.
My lasting memory of Murphy from Binghamton is this: At one point, he was on the disabled list for an injury. A minor one, he missed maybe a week of playing time. After one game, the Mets announced that Murphy would be taken off the DL starting the next day.
When I went into the clubhouse, Murphy was walking back to the training room, his eyes on fire, clapping his hands.
"I get to hit tomorrow," he kept saying, his voice a combination of fierce professionalism and childlike joy.
"I get to hit tomorrow."
At least this fall, he hasn't stopped.