About 40 miles east of Citi Field, a former postseason hero for the Mets — and a one-time runner-up for MVP in the National League — takes a seat in the dugout in a quaint 6,000-seat ballpark with bat in hand, overlooking what he affectionately calls the “new sandlot” in his life.
Essentially retired from Major League Baseball since the conclusion of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Daniel Murphy is happy to matter-of-factly declare he’s “back in the bushes,” and he insists he’s embracing everything that colloquialism entails.
The three-time All-Star is making an unforeseen attempt to revive his baseball career with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, but the 38-year-old Murphy, is not simply another aging ballplayer trying to hang on to the final remnants of his glory days.
“I was looking for a new sandlot and a team that would have me, and the Ducks were the team that would have me,” Murphy told The Post on Friday at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip. “My goals are to come out here every day and be as good a teammate as I can and play the game properly, play the game how David Wright taught me how to play it.
“As far as what happens outside of that, I’m completely open to a new challenge, and I’ll keep playing as hard as I can for as long as they’ll have me.”
But why now, you logically and legitimately ask?
Why would someone as accomplished as Murphy — who earned nearly $80 million over the course of 12 year in the majors, and who set an MLB record by homering in six consecutive postseason games for the Mets in 2015 — be willing to ride the buses from Suffolk County to various small-town outposts as many as 10 hours away?
“I was retired in my mind,” Murphy said. “But I’d say what did it for me was I got very much re-curious about baseball again.”
As Murphy explains it, he had completed his degree in business management at Jacksonville University after playing what he thought was his final game for the Rockies on Sept. 28, 2020.
With four kids at home, he also noticed something about the “fluidity of their movement” that he thought he could incorporate into his swing to improve his path to the ball.
“I like to call it being a bit more un-weighted,” Murphy said.
Murphy also watched the Ken Burns documentary “Baseball” for the first time and “fell back in love with the game,” which led him to listen to a few old-school baseball audiobooks, such as the 1966 Lawrence Ritter tome “The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It.”
More recently he has been listening to Hall of Fame hurler Christy Mathewson’s autobiography, quoting it extensively during a 15-minute sit-down with The Post.
“I just thought, man, this is a really cool game we have,” Murphy said. “But in trying to play it as hard as I could, and being as productive a teammate as I could be, I didn’t really ever pay that much attention to its history. It got me reenergized about the game.”
Murphy’s seven-year stint with the Mets was highlighted by an insane binge in which he homered in six straight games against the Dodgers and the Cubs in the 2015 National League playoffs.
He landed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Nationals that offseason and finished second in NL MVP voting the following year.
Ducks manager Wally Backman, whose history with Murphy dates back to working together in the Mets’ minor league system, said he believes “Murph could help a big league team right now” with his bat, especially with the advent of the designated hitter in both leagues.
“He didn’t need to come here. He made almost $90 million. We talked about that, even before he committed to doing this,” Backman said. “I said, ‘Murph, why?’ He said, ‘I’m trying a few new things, getting my swing back to the way it once was, but I’ve got to try it on the field, and I’m only going to do it as long as I have fun.’ And you can tell he’s having fun every day.”
Murphy has been playing a lot of second base through his first few weeks on Long Island, though Backman likely will shift him to either first base or designated hitter once another former Mets middle infielder, Ruben Tejada, who has been dealing with visa issues, joins the Ducks’ roster.
“You may call it playing second base, somebody else might call it just rolling out there,” Murphy joked. “Ruben is supposed to be here soon, and I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground by saying Ruben is a significantly better infielder than I am.”
Still, Murphy knows his path back to the majors is with his bat.
He is hitting .293 with an .804 OPS through 19 games this season after rapping seven hits with one walk in 11 plate appearances over the Ducks’ games Thursday and Friday.
He believes his revamped swing is “coming along, very quickly,” but if a big league team doesn’t come calling right away, that’s OK, too.
“I’m really having great fun with my baseball. I sincerely learn something new every day, whether it’s physically or just observing the game,” Murphy said. “The great thing is everybody is here voluntarily. We could be doing anything else and we’re here. I’m going to keep showing up as long as I’m still enjoying myself and as long as they let me.”
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