After the glory of the home runs fade away, MVP trophies seem like a distant memory and two things remain.
Relationships and people.
Two time National League MVP Dale Murphy, headlined Saturday nights Orem Owlz “first pitch” dinner for nearly 300 season ticket holders and booster club donors. The event was the inaugural reception for the newly christened Provo Convention Center in downtown Provo.
After an hour of signing autographs and taking pictures, Murphy spoke to the gathering of loyal Owlz followers, recounting lessons learned during his 18 years in professional baseball and continuously telling “just one more story”. The common theme woven by Murphy through each anecdote was the lessons he learned from legendary managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
“Everyone asks me what makes them great,” Murphy said. “What sets them apart is the way they treated people. They always protected them from the media but you always knew where you stood with them.”
“They were upfront and honest at all times,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t pinch hit for you at times, because they had to. They would bench you or trade you if they needed to, but you always knew they had your back and honestly wanted you to succeed.”
The lifespan of a professional athletes career is never known until it’s over, but the one certainty is that it will end. Once it ends, the ability to swing a piece of wood at an apple-sized, rawhide-covered ball of string fails to translate to civilian life. The Gold Glove talent for tracking down fly balls on a neatly manicured ballpark turf fades with aging knees taking hold with highlight reels as the only evidence of a one-of-kind ability.
According to Murphy, what sticks with you and benefits whatever you do post pro sports, is the lessons learned that shape who you become as a person and how you treat other people.
“There was one play that typifies Bobby Cox,” Murphy said. “We had a guy that missed a ground ball that let the winning run score. On his way back to the dugout he had his head down and was pretty upset, but when he walked by Cox, Bobby tapped him on the butt and said ‘It’s ok, I think that took a bad hop’. We all looked at each other kind of funny because there wasn’t a bad hop.”
“At that level bad hops shouldn’t matter,” Murphy said. “You’ve played long enough and get paid to make plays on those bad hops. But what Bobby did was let that guy know he trusted him and would count on him to make the play next time. You hear the term that ‘a guy would run through a brick wall for him’, that’s Bobby. You wanted to play better for him because you knew he was rooting for you.”
True to his legendary character, Murphy held true to his commitment to attend the first pitch dinner despite stepping out from his own family momentarily that was in town for his sons wedding only a few days ago.
“I apologize for leaving before desert,” Murphy said. “Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often.”
Following Murphy’s remarks, former California Angels shortstop and current front office executive, Gary DiSarcina addressed the crowd. His remarks focused on the relationships that are built during the first years of a professional baseball player.
“My first day on the job in Lowell (Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate), I was told that these guys would always remember their first year,” DiSarcina said. “I had a guy, Middlebrooks, that played for me that first year and he was just called up for Boston. I sent him a text congratulating him and I will always save his response.”
Holding up his cell phone, DiSarcina choked up slightly and shared a touching response. The text thanked him for everything he taught him and that he would never forget the time they spent together.
“That’s what this is all about,” DiSarcina said. “You all get a chance to have these players in your homes and you create those memories and relationships that they will always remember. Whether they make it to the pros or not, it’s a blessing to have this opportunity.”
The Angels organization has a program set up that houses players with members of the community for room and board during the season. Fans have the chance to give back to the team and care for the young ball players, becoming extended family and part of the organization.
Owlz director of broadcasting and play-by-play announcer Brandon Marcus, a California native and second year member of the Owlz organization emceed the event. Following Murphy and DiSarcina, Owlz general manager Brett Crane closed out the night thanking the donors and sponsors and spoke of upcoming promotions. “No soup for you” night headlines this season’s promotions on July 21 with the first 1,000 fans receiving soup ladles and Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’ throwing out the first pitch.
Orem will play their first home game of the season June 21, renewing the I-15 rivalry with the Ogden Raptors.
Jonathan Boldt is Editor-in-Chief and can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jboldt24