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As league grows, so has Cavs' Murphy
Blue Jays prospect and fan favourite set for Toronto camp
03/01/2015 10:51 PM ET
Jack Murphy is a .321 hitter in 123 career ABL games with the Cavalry.
Jack Murphy is a .321 hitter in 123 career ABL games with the Cavalry. (SMP Images/ABL Media)

CANBERRA - Playing for the Canberra Cavalry for his third consecutive North American off-season this winter, Jack Murphy had a different perspective than many of the other imported players in the Australian Baseball League. 

The 26-year-old catcher has seen the circuit grow and change over his three years of involvement, the league making bigger strides in some areas than others, and he has been personally invested in that process. 

From the time he was welcomed with wide open arms in his first season to when he left the country just weeks ago in January, Murphy has seen an enthusiasm for the game unmatched in many parts of the world where baseball is more prevalent.  

"That's what sometimes gets lost when you try to explain the way the league is out here, is the passion people have for the sport," he said. "As a player and a person, I'm genuinely interested in improving the league in any way we can to make it so it lasts and grows in Australia. Baseball is such a great game that the people who have heard about it and come out to the ballpark, they buy into it and they really, really love it. That passion is pretty rare. 

"Minor league players rotate so much but here you get to see a lot of the same faces year in and year out, and the fans really connect with that. That's what we've done in Canberra and that's what we hope to grow throughout the league." 
Throughout his stints in Australian Capital Territory, Murphy has seen firsthand how the young league has developed. Though it still has a long way to go, the ABL is continually improving and setting new standards every season.

"The league has gotten much better, more competitive," he said. "If you look at the ladder, for the most part everybody is pretty tightly bunched and that's good for the league. 

"You see Australians growing, and more Australians playing every year, and more [affiliated] imports that come out here. The level of play has definitely gone up, and that's good for not only Canberra but the ABL in general. And it's enjoyable." 

Murphy's tenure in the league is unprecedented for a player hailing from overseas. The native of Sarasota, Fla., has set new import standards in every category with his career ABL totals, along with hitting .353/.413/.542 and adding six home runs, 11 doubles and 37 RBI in 40 games this year for the Cavalry. 

In his first season down under, the fan favourite also helped Canberra to its first Claxton Shield victory in decades, the championship securing them a berth in the Asia Series the following October in Taiwan. The unheralded underdog went on to capture the title in Taichung, a huge victory for not only the squad but also for baseball in Australia. 

"When we won the Asian Series, that was incredible," Murphy said. "[Cavalry Manager Michael Collins] and I still talk about it and how I don't think anybody quite understands how big of an upset that was. You're talking about a team with a payroll of forty-seven thousand beating teams with payrolls in the fifty millions. It was a pretty incredible experience…

"And obviously winning the championship out here my first year was incredible. Canberra hadn't won the Claxton Shield in 70 years, and people really rallied around that. That was the starting point of what it's grown into today. 

"When people ask me why I'm so popular out here or whatever it is, most of that comes from winning. We've had a lot of success over the last few years. I haven't even been the best player on those teams, and we've had some great players, but more than anything it comes down to just winning games." 

Not originally planning to make a return to the Fort at Narrabundah Ballpark this winter, the opportunity arose when Murphy asked Toronto's minor league field coordinator Doug Davis who he was planning to send to Australia this year, the fourth time the Blue Jays have shipped affiliated players across the world for more time on the field. 

"He told me they were open to sending me if I wanted to go," the backstop said. "I didn't get a lot of at-bats in the States last year, and it's nice to come here and get the at-bats I didn't get…So as much as I love being out here, a lot of it is about me developing as a player and trying to get to the big leagues. That's the goal for everybody. So it helps me a lot. 

"I've had to make some adjustments so that I can stay healthy playing as much as I have been…but it's been fantastic. I think the reason the Blue Jays have sent me out here three times now is that they see the growth as a player that I've had. We have a lot of good catchers in the Blue Jays organization and there are only so many at-bats that can go around, so it's nice to have this so I can get some extra work." 

The extra off-season work will take Murphy into his seventh spring training with the Blue Jays. Last season, the former 31st-round pick out of Princeton University split time between the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, travelling between the two on multiple occasions. 

"I don't mind the moving," Murphy said. "I loved being in Buffalo. They had a great group of guys in Buffalo and it was a great time with guys who really care about not only getting to the big leagues, but winning. 

"Sometimes that gets lost in the minor leagues because everybody wants to get to the big leagues and they're doing everything they can for themselves. The team in Buffalo was really nice in the sense that they wanted to win games and as a group they wanted to be successful. Those are the most fun things. Those are the teams you want to be a part of. 

"New Hampshire got off to a slow start, and probably the thing that I was most proud of this year was when I was playing in New Hampshire, as a group we were able to turn the tide and have some success after we started off so poorly there. 

"That's what we've tried to create here in Canberra, an environment that really cares about winning. That translates more than anything to the development of players. If you can really genuinely play to win games, then you can find out who the guys are that you want on the field at all times."

Murphy will hit the free agent market when this season is over, and no matter what happens this season and beyond, he is grateful for the opportunity he's had with the Canadian organization and everything he's experienced over his last six seasons. 

"My main concern is about getting better as a player and getting to the big leagues," Murphy said. "I've had great coaches, I've gotten so much better as a player, and I've loved being a part of the organization. 

"Hopefully I go in and have success, and if I get an opportunity to play in the big leagues that would be best for me, but I have nothing but great things to say and the Blue Jays have been fantastic to me."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to TheABL.com.au. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis. This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.