When you have to drive from Peoria, Ariz., to upstate New York — a windshield time of 34-plus hours, give or take a gas station stop or five — you’ll search for most anything to occupy the time spent behind the wheel or keep yourself alert.
Because his rental car had Sirius XM, Mariners catcher Tom Murphy listened intently to the news about the coronavirus pandemic. When his eyes would feel heavy, he’d flip over to the comedy channels and get some laughs — never a bad thing considering the circumstances.
With baseball shut down indefinitely and the Mariners’ spring-training facility closed, Murphy decided to return to his family and offseason home in West Monroe, N.Y., shortly after the announcement.
“To think about eight weeks without a baseball facility, that wouldn’t bode well for my career, and I can actually get work done at home,” he said.
“Work” to Murphy is working out. He does it daily — offseason, during the season, before spring-training practices, before games and after games.
Some teammates consider him a fanatic. Others see him as motivated. To Murphy, he’s committed to his career, and being in the best physical condition is part of that responsibility.
At 220 pounds, seemingly most of it muscle, Murphy is considered one of the strongest and most fit players in the Mariners organization. When he was with the Rockies, he was consistently one of the highest scorers of the Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness (SPARQ) testing every year.
“I think everybody understands who Murph is,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said this spring. “Murph’s about business, about bringing 100% effort every day. He does all the things you love your catcher to do, because right or wrong everybody is always looking at the catcher. He knows that and welcomes that.”
It was on that interminable drive to New York when Murphy pondered his future workouts at home and what they might be like.
“I’m going to continue to train and prepare for the season,” he said. “Luckily at home, I have just a smaller weight room in my basement.”
But he also wants to be outside on his property.
“We live in an area where I don’t have any neighbors within a 1,000 yards,” he said. “We have a vast amount of land and woods and forest to utilize it so I can still be outside and enjoy a good time.”
And he has decided to show people they can stay in shape during this time of self-quarantine, shelter in place and social distancing.
“I’m going to try to use social media to show some of the stuff that you can do outside without having to have any equipment at all,” he said. “So yeah, definitely looking forward to that, too.”
Murphy hasn’t been known to be a social-media butterfly. By comparison, he was a novice compared to teammates Marco Gonzales, Dan Altavilla, Shed Long Jr. and even prospects Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, who have become must-follows on Twitter for Mariners fans.
The first tweet that inspired all of this came March 16, when he posted a picture of a long, rock-lined hill in Arizona and the caption: “Forever will be one of the greatest tools in any athlete’s physical development handbook, the hill. Free and unrestricted. Use your time wisely.”
Then came the Instragram posts. The first started with a video played at a high speed, of him doing a variety of exercises. It read: “I will be starting to post my training days! This is an area I’m very passionate about so if anyone has any questions don’t hesitate and we can start a conversation.”
He then listed his complete workout in detail.
The feedback was instantaneous.
“I think before those videos get posted, I think I had like 10 or 11 followers just because I’m very new to social media,” said Murphy, who Friday had 1,660 followers on Instagram and 294 on Twitter.
The workouts aren’t for beginners, but they aren’t impossible. Murphy doesn’t post videos of himself doing all the things, deeming it too narcissistic. They are supposed to offer information, and he’s open to feedback and answering questions.
“A lot of time during my career and prior even to my professional career starting, a lot of time was spent toward physical development,” he said. “I think at this point, especially in these circumstances, I have plenty of ideas to share. And hopefully that my ideas can keep the interest in sports going and keep that in the back of people’s minds.”
Unlike many of his teammates, who shrugged off the discussion of coronavirus in early February, he was cognizant of the possible pandemic.
“As soon as we heard that there’s cases in America, my mind automatically went, ‘OK, well, this is going to spread through the entire United States,’ ” he said. “Viruses are like that. As soon as there is one, there is going to be many. You have to assume that it’s everywhere. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been in our clubhouse. It’s one of those things where you have to assume the worst and act accordingly.”
Control what you can control is a big baseball mantra. But …
“It’s so much out of our control right now,” he said. “(The baseball season) has a chance of being canceled. Even at that point, there’s still nothing we can do about it. It’s one of those things where everybody feels helpless because of that fact, where it’s just you have to adhere by what the government is suggesting, so hopefully we can flatten the curve fast. Hopefully we can all agree that’s the best line of effort and focus on that.”
This was supposed to be a landmark season in a career that felt like it was beginning to blossom. After failing to establish himself with the Rockies in limited opportunities, he broke through in 2019 after the Mariners picked him up just before the start of the regular season.
In a platoon with Omar Narvaez, Murphy slashed .273/.324/.535 with 12 doubles, a triple, 18 homers and 40 RBI in 75 games, amassing 3.2 Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs, fifth-most for all MLB catchers.
He performed well enough that the Mariners were comfortable trading Narvaez this offseason and having Murphy serve as the main catcher with Austin Nola as a backup who plays often.
This spring Murphy, 29, showed impressive leadership qualities, communicating with pitchers and setting the tone for other catchers in camp.
“That’s his personality,” said Servais, a former major-league catcher. “I think he’s very comfortable. He knows he’s a part of what we’re doing, and we value what he brings. The other intangibles we really value as well. He knows that, and I want it to come out, getting on pitchers and getting to know them and gaining their trust and holding them accountable. That’s what good catchers do and do it their own way.”
And now Murphy is just like everyone else, waiting for baseball and life to return to normal. He’s maintained proper perspective instead of dwelling on his first season as the starter being sidetracked.
“I’ve worked my whole life for where I’m at, but there’s millions and millions of people right now that worked just as hard in their own careers that are losing their job and have no direction at all,” he said. “So I’m very thankful for everything that I’ve been given and worked for so far in my career.
“I’m really heartfelt for people that don’t have much to fall back on right now. Luckily, baseball has provided me and my family with at least some sense of security for the time being.”