KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You can imagine how difficult it must be to explain hitting – the art of it, the commitment to it, the enormous number of things that can go wrong as compared to the couple things that can go right – to a bunch of people whose greatest athletic achievement most days is foot-shuffling the hotel bath mat from the shower to the sink.
Not even difficult, even. More like hopeless. Especially if the man being asked to explain it doesn't entirely understand it himself, at least not the part where he hits .288 his whole big-league life until he hits .421 (with seven home runs) for 13 days one October.
Hitters catch an updraft occasionally, often enough when their professional world appears bleakest, because that's how the game toys with even the most decent of people. Yes, all of this hard contact is in you. No, you can't have it today. Maybe not tomorrow either.
Daniel Murphy sat Monday afternoon in a basement room in the building that houses the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. He was crowded by bath-mat shufflers who needed to know how exactly he went from Daniel Murphy to what the owner of the Royals himself recently called "the reincarnation of Babe Ruth."
Some things there are no answers for. Some, there are too many answers, considering the audience. Some, both.
So he smiled patiently.
"Just try to get a good pitch to hit," he said, "and try to hit it hard."
There's a little more to it, including the eight months of work he's done with hitting coach Kevin Long, the careful distance he's put between himself and old habits, the slow recognition that not every pitch was born to be handled with a swing that may or may not push the ball into left-center field and then finished with one hand on the bat.
"No, no, no," Long would say after another one of those swings, which, granted, had treated Murphy reasonably well over the years, "that's not what we're looking for here."
They'd go back in, get after it again, and figure out how not to feather that pitch, but to pound it. Maybe the conversations, the practice reps, the season-long remodel shaped by 500 at-bats had something to do with the 38 at-bats that have carried the New York Mets' offense for 13 days. They'd have to, you'd think. Foot down, balance, drive with the legs and, hey, turn on a pitch once in a while, you know?
In February, his first days on the job with the Mets after losing the same job with the Yankees, Long went to Murphy with a message along the lines of, here's what I see, here's what I think you could do better, here's what the results may be. Then Murphy was basically the same hitter, in the way of results, with a few more home runs. He walked 31 times and struck out 38 times, so hardly did either. He hit a lot of doubles. He entered October as a guy among nine, trampled perhaps by the offensive prospects of Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson, the return to the postseason for David Wright, the power potential of Lucas Duda.
A couple weeks later, in time for the 111th World Series, Monday played like the pilot for "CSI: Jacksonville", for the town Murphy grew up in and the college he attended before the Mets took him 394th in the 2006 draft. Amid the conversations of Murphy's October and Murphy's power and Murphy's impact on a postseason in which his 24 teammates have combined to hit barely .200, you had Murphy smiling and saying, "Just try to get a good pitch to hit and try to hit it hard."
Which means he's asked, you know, given he's got a teammate known as Captain America and another as Thor and another as The Dark Knight, if it'd be OK with him to be Superman.
"Oh, no," he said. "Oh, no. No, no Superman. No. No. Just a second baseman."
Maybe a mild-mannered second baseman?
It does get one to thinking about how it all works, how a man obsessed with hitting goes to bed one night a good hitter and goes to bed the next to the sound of an entire city swooning. It gets one to thinking about the birth of, the maintenance of, and the sharpening of a batting stroke that is not, in some ways, unlike raising a child. It blossoms when it blossoms. You love it, scold it, swell with pride over it, become exasperated by it, think about it every day all day long, wonder what's going to become of it, and maybe, finally, at a certain age, decide it's going to be what it's going to be and you may as well enjoy the ride. And then one day it calls to buy you a beer, like none of that other stuff ever happened.
So Daniel Murphy revealed that he'd lately been getting good pitches and taking good swings, and that the home runs, frankly, are a bit of a surprise to him too, and some of that is due to a coach such as Kevin Long, and some is due to hitting behind David Wright and ahead of Yoenis Cespedes, and the rest he's trying not to think about too much. He revealed he's getting his foot down early. He revealed that being a father for the first time – a second child is due in December – had perhaps softened his hitting fixation some, and maybe he's not in his own head quite so much. And he revealed, "If I had an answer for it I would have done it a long time ago," meaning, hey, when it comes it comes, and when it doesn't, you get back in the cage and hope it does.
Beyond that, it's very complicated, it's very simple, it's everything and nothing and it showed up just in time.
"It's fun," he said.