Hit Man

Oct. 20, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Andrew John Murray loves hitting.

Whether it’s hitting the field, hitting the baseball, even hitting opposing base runners bearing down on home plate trying to score, Murray, better known as “A.J.”, can’t get enough contact.

“I’m always looking forward to plays at the plate just to get that little adrenaline pump,” said the 6-1, 220-pound right-handed hitting sophomore catcher from Westfield, N.J.

“He would not shy away from contact, I can guarantee you that,” said Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall, with a laugh. “I think he was an all-state football player, so it gives him a tough mindset. You’re used to getting hit. I think it gives you confidence.”

Murray has hit with confidence throughout fall practice and had one of the White team’s seven hits in Game One of the annual White-Gold Series that marks the end of fall practice Friday afternoon. The White team fell, however, 5-2.

The series resumes Monday at Russ Chandler Stadium and concludes Tuesday, with first pitch both days at 3:45 p.m.

“I think he’s played very well,” said Hall. “He’s been one of our best hitters in the fall.”

Murray has always hit. He hit and hit back at Westfield High School, playing linebacker and running back during the fall then catcher during the spring. He focused on baseball once the recruiting process began and baseball offers outnumbered football.

“I love playing football,” said Murray, who admits he still carries that linebacker mentality. “If I could play both at the collegiate level I would love to, but it’s a little hard.”

The choice of the diamond over the gridiron went over well in his household.

“My house is all about baseball, softball,” said Murray, the youngest of three. “There were times we would all be in the batting cages together hitting, me, my brother, my sister. It was kind hard for my dad to bounce around because we all had games on the same days. But baseball definitely is in the blood in my family.”

So is catching, at least among the Murray kids. While A.J.’s father, Michael, was a third baseman in the Chicago White Sox chain, A.J., older brother Michael Jr. and older sister Brittany all donned the catcher’s gear.

Call it their way of acting out.

“A little bit,” he said, with a laugh. “Once my brother started catching we kind of had no choice. That’s what you had to do in my family.”

They all did it well. Michael Jr. was a left-handed, power-hitting catcher for four years at Wake Forest and had a brief stint in the San Francisco Giant’s system, while Brittany, is in her senior year on the Maryland softball team. A.J. continued the ACC legacy by attending Georgia Tech.

Last season he saw limited action, playing behind Zane Evans and Mitch Earnest, batting .083, with one hit in 12 at-bats, but Hall knew there was plenty of potential there — the same potential that led the Houston Astros to draft Murray in the 48th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

So it was summer school for Murray. He joined teammates Alex Cruz, Thomas Smith and Charles Sheffield in playing in Virginia’s Valley Baseball League.

Playing as part of the Harrisonburg Turks, Tech’s quartet helped the team to a 34-18 record, second in their division, and then the league championship. Murray played in 30 games, making 26 starts, and, most importantly got 92 at-bats — he had over 100 plate appearances, having earned nine walks and getting hit by five pitches. He batted .239 with three homers and 14 RBIs, with a .430 slugging percentage, sixth on the team, and a .340 on-base percentage, 10th. On the defensive side, he committed one error all summer and fielded .992.

“We had a lot of great players on the team and we got hot in the playoffs,” he said. “It was a great summer playing with those guys. I had a lot of fun.”

He also got a lot out of the extra AB’s.

“I wanted to work on a lot of things that Coach Hall had coached before and try to get as many at-bats as I could to get my swing right and get in shape by the time fall so I could get a good start to this year,” he said.

Hall feels Murray’s done just that.

“I wanted him to get at-bats and get caught up to the speed of the game in college. He definitely did that,” said Hall. “When he came back this fall you could tell he was much improved and had a much more mature mindset about his business, how to work. It showed on the field that the summer was good for him.”

A.J. can feel the difference between his freshman and sophomore seasons and is ready to build on last season and contribute more.

“It’s definitely a lot different from freshman year,” he said. “High school baseball to college baseball is a lot different. Everything’s faster, so last year was a big adjustment. This year, after playing last year and the summer you kind of get used to the game speed and I’ve learned how to relax at the plate playing with everybody. I’m more comfortable this year.”

He’s also shown he’s comfortable playing a number of positions in the field, something the Jackets plan to take advantage of.

“He’s a good athlete and so his athletic ability gives him a chance to play different places,” Hall said. “You know how I operate, the more places somebody can play the better their chances of getting on the field. He worked very hard to make himself a viable guy for us this year.

“I’ve been playing him at first base as well as catcher,” Hall added. “I think he’s definitely put himself in the mix of playing a lot. If we had to play today he would definitely start somewhere because he’s swinging the bat very well.”

That’s fine with Murray, who will answer the call, wherever that leads him.

“First base, catcher and I can go to the outfield, too, if [Coach Hall] needs me,” he said. “So wherever it best helps the team that’s what I’ll do.”

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