The Tucson bus rolled into town on the short trip from Des Moines, more than likely right past the remains of what used to be Rosenblatt Stadium.
Pat Murphy didn’t look up.
“I don’t know,” Murphy said when asked if he’d gone past Rosenblatt on Interstate 80. “I was on the computer. … I knew where I was coming.”
Not long ago, Murphy was often one of the toasts of the town in Omaha, bringing his mighty Arizona State Sun Devils to the College World Series at Rosenblatt in 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and holding court before throngs of media types.
He came back into town for the first time since with substantially less fanfare. He’s managing the Class AAA Tucson Padres, whose four-game series with the Omaha Storm Chasers at Werner Park ended Thursday.
Murphy said he spent his time in town shuttling between the team hotel and the ballpark west of Papillion. The new TD Ameritrade Park and the Rosenblatt site would have to wait for another day.
“I just don’t want to go see right now,” Murphy said. “I’m busy, and I just don’t want to go through all those emotions.”
Murphy is in his fourth season in the Padres’ organization and his first at the Class AAA level. He’d spent the previous two years managing San Diego’s short-season Class A team in Eugene, Ore., after one season in the Padres’ front office.
Murphy, a four-time Pacific-10 Conference coach of the year and the 1998 national coach of year, compiled a record of 1,000-457-4 at first Notre Dame and then Arizona State.
But he was forced to resign at Arizona State one day after the university received an NCAA report alleging 10 rules violations, including improper recruiting methods, coaching activities and benefits to players in November 2009.
Arizona State was given a postseason ban in 2012 and placed on three years of probation, though the primary complaint about Murphy appeared to be his “cavalier” attitude toward the investigation.
Murphy joined the Padres as a special assistant to baseball operations in February 2010, then returned to the field in 2011.
“I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s been a blessing,” Murphy said. “It took me a long time to get over the bitterness of being kind of the person put in front of the bus (at Arizona State). … It was kind of a tough pill to swallow, but a lot of people have been faced with a lot tougher stuff, so I’m very thankful I’ve gotten these opportunities.”
Always an engaging personality, the 54-year-old Murphy continued his winning ways with Eugene, leading the Emeralds to a two-season record of 93-47 and a pair of overall regular-season Northwest League division titles.
But he said there has been a learning curve for him, blending the win-first mentality of college baseball while focusing on the player-development aspect of the minor league game.
Prospects have to get their innings and their at-bats, often regardless of their performance.
“There’s only one ‘W’ that matters, and that’s in San Diego,” Murphy said. “Now that doesn’t preclude trying to play winning baseball (in the minors), but the bottom line is, ‘What is best for San Diego?’
“You have much less control, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re following a script that is designed to develop players and have guys ready for San Diego if called upon.”
While Northwest League rosters are typically stocked with players freshly drafted out of college or with players in their early 20s — basically the same age group Murphy coached in college — the San Diego organization asked him to oversee a more veteran roster when it made him the manager at Tucson of the Pacific Coast League. The average age of his current roster is 26.
“It’s been a great challenge,” Murphy said. “I know a lot of these guys from five or six years ago, 10 years ago in some cases. But it’s still dealing with people. I’m kind of the same with everybody. I need to get better at it.”
Murphy is doing just fine, said pitcher Sean O’Sullivan, a former Omaha player in his first season in the San Diego organization.
“Triple A can be a tough environment because guys are moving so much and a lot of times guys can get bitter because they think they should be somewhere else,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s done a good job of keeping the environment light and yet making it a winning environment. Big-league clubs are looking for winners.”
Tucson outfielder Travis Buck, who also played for Murphy at Arizona State, said the primary reason he signed with San Diego is that the worst-case scenario — if Buck didn’t make the big-league team — would be to play for Murphy again.
“He’s a guy I would run through a wall for, just like I would have in college,” Buck said. “You don’t really see that, more often than not, from professional players.”
Yes, Buck said, the end at Arizona State affected Murphy. It comes up in conversations between the two from time to time. But the coaching style is still the same.
“To see the rug pulled out from under him, it was tough,” Buck said. “But he’s the same guy. He’s out there having fun, and he wants to get the best he can out all his players.”
Murphy said there’s more than one way for players to prepare for the major leagues, and both the college route and the minor league ladder have their merits.
“At the college level, you’re doing it all (developing and winning) at once,” Murphy said. “In college you develop a winning style of play in a player, or he doesn’t play. In pro ball, you’re developing the baseball skills more and hopefully developing the winning style along the way — hopefully they grasp that.
“I think most general managers will tell you that the college player is special because of what they bring in their winning style, but it’s not the only way to get to the big leagues.”
Though he’s kept a relatively low profile in his trip to Omaha, Murphy said he’s still surprised by those who recognized him.
“I go to Des Moines (for the Iowa series) and no one knows me — they shouldn’t,” he said. “But I come here and I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met, just going from the hotel to the ballpark, asking me about what it’s like to be back. It’s just a warm, welcoming feeling. It’s really a special place in America that’s synonymous with baseball.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RWhiteOWH