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#TGW: Co-Captain Clutch

Feb. 22, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

A.J. Murray didn’t get credit for a game-winning hit, run or RBI for his ninth-inning grand slam Saturday afternoon in Georgia Tech’s 16-9 win over Florida International in the Yellow Jackets’ opener in the 16th annual Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach.

He didn’t get credit for a game-tying hit, run or RBI.

In the statistics-rich world of baseball, where there is seemingly a category recognizing everything, there is no category for “game-sealing” or “team-lifting/opposing-team-deflating.” So Murray’s blow, his 10th career homer and the signature hit in what was a monster day (3-for-5, four runs scored and a career-high six-RBIs) is destined to be compartmentalized into the world of bullet-point notes, shortly to be buried by future big days.

That’s okay with Murray. He’s not about personal glory. He’s all-in for the team. It’s how he’s not only accepted a daily evolving role but come to enjoy it.

“We have so many guys who can play so many different positions and excel at those positions,” he said. “So it’s going to be a tough decision for Coach Hall to write a lineup every day, which is a good problem to have. I don’t know where I’ll be playing but wherever I’ll be playing will be the best place for me to help our team.”

He’s especially gotten into the day-to-day mystery surrounding what position will appear next to his name.

“You don’t really fall into a routine like normal everyday players do,” he said. “Some days you’ll be catching, some days you’ll be DH’ing, some days you’ll be at first. So it changes the perspective of the game every day. It’s fun. It’s exciting.”

That excitement has translated into quality at-bats. Murray entered Sunday having caught twice, serving as designated hitter four times, and batting right in the middle of the order — cleanup twice Saturday, after hitting fifth in the first four games. He ranked sixth on the team in hitting (a .300 batting average), second in RBIs (10, two behind leader Kel Johnson), third in total bases (11), fifth in slugging percentage (.550), and tied for second in walks (5, one more than he has strikeouts).

While producing and providing quality at-bats is expected, he knows that he carries a bigger responsibility with him every day, one that doesn’t change regardless of the where he plays or hits. That is his role as a team leader.

He was selected as one of the team’s co-captains, even though on most days, he hasn’t taken the field defensively.

Of course, in choosing a captain, daily presence in the clubhouse carries more weight than daily presence in the field, as Tech’s other captain is pitcher Devin Stanton.

Having the respect of his peers is something Murray has earned in his three years on The Flats as well as the last two summers in the prestigious Cape Cod League. Last summer, Murray’s prodigiousness on the field — a three-time Player of the Week and MVP of the CCL All-Star Game — and generosity off it led to his being named winner of the Cape Cod League’s Manny Robello 10th Player Award. The award recognizes a player’s dedication on and off the field and has been won once previously by a Yellow Jacket, legendary shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Murray fits being in company of Garciaparra character-wise and personifies the abundant character among the senior class on this year’s team.

“We have someone in every area position-wise. We have pitchers, outfielders, infielders and I work with the catchers some, too,” he said. “So it’s easier and more efficient for us to impact other players that way. If we’re working with infielders and catchers I can work with them, share my experiences playing the past three years. Devin can talk to the pitchers, starting pitchers especially, the young guys about his experiences and what he’s learned. I think it’s going to benefit everybody being able to share over a wide range with the entire team and have these young guys learn from what we’ve learned from the people above us.”

Getting the opportunity to take youngsters like sophomore starting catcher Arden Pabst and freshman Kel Johnson under his wing is an opportunity he relishes and makes coming to the park for practice as exciting as coming for games.

“Definitely, because we were all freshmen at one point, too,” Murray said. “It’s fun to look back and see how much I’ve learned from the upperclassmen and the coaches in my three years. To be able to share that knowledge with a kid like Kel, who’s got the most upside of any player we have here, it’s fun to be able to share my experiences and help him be the best player he can be.”

Pabst learned how much Murray has to offer last year.

“He was probably the biggest mentor I had on the team. I can not say enough good things about A.J.,” he said. “The dude is like a big brother to me and being able to work with him, I really could not pick anybody else I’d want to do it with because the dude is just an amazing guy, he’s an unbelievable ball player.

“People forget, A.J. got drafted as a catcher out of high school,” he added. “He’s a very, very good catcher. He’s a heck of a catcher. I think a lot of people actually forget that. I try to do my best to help him out when I can, but I don’t think he needs that much help.”

Murray, who was drafted by the Houston Astros on the 48th round in 2011, coming out of Westfield High School, in Westfield, N.J., insists the information exchange with Pabst is a two-way street.

“Arden is very experienced catching,” he said. “He’s very knowledgeable back there. He helps me in some regards. I help him experience-wise.”

That’s exactly the kind of give-and-take you’d expect from teammates and the kind of selflessness that comes from a teammate like Murray, for whom sharing credit rather than taking it is paramount.

There IS a statistical category for that kind of selflessness and resulting cohesion — wins.

“Everyone has a genuine respect for each other,” said Murray. “We all get along. It’s a very tight-knit group. I attribute that to all the upperclassmen and underclassmen getting together and getting to know each other better.”

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