Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Former MLB star Daniel Murphy leaning on God as he returns to college to finish degree

Dozens of eager college-aged students packed a philosophy class this spring at Jacksonville University. In the back corner of the classroom, though, sat a three-time MLB All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and a member of school’s Hall of Fame.

“Almost exactly where I sat 15 years ago,” Daniel Murphy said on the Table Forty Podcast this week. “Almost the same exact class, so it looks the same. Not much has changed.”

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Perhaps the classroom itself hasn’t changed, but plenty has changed for Murphy, including why he’s even back in school.

“I’m here because I want to learn how to think and organize my thoughts via spoken word and writing,” Murphy said. “And I think these kids are like, ‘The old man’s lost it. He’s lost his mind.’

“It’s been such an interesting experience because the first time I went to school I was there for baseball. This time, I better understand that I could be doing anything else in the world but I’m choosing to do this, so I might as well choose to do it admirably.”

 

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A little over 15 years ago, Murphy was a star on Jacksonville’s baseball team, and he was named Atlantic Sun Player of the Year in 2006 before being drafted in the 13th round by the New York Mets. After a 12-year career in the major leagues — highlighted by being named the MVP of the 2015 National League Championship Series while playing for the Mets — Murphy announced his retirement in January at the age of 35.

He left college a year early to enter the MLB draft, leaving his degree unfinished. So when he retired, he inquired about what it would take to finish out his degree. Turns out he only needed two classes, so he enrolled in the philosophy class as well as a class covering United States history from 1865 to present day.

“I think originally, I wanted to go back to school to get my degree, or at least I thought I did depending on how much they were going to ask of me,” Murphy said. “They only asked two classes, which I really needed, like, 10 probably, because I left a year early. I figured two classes, you’ve got to take that. It would be irresponsible and a bit lazy not to do it.”

Retired life has been kind to him, he said. Going back to school is just one part of this next phase of his life.

“When we got done with [pro baseball], it was like the end of an adventure,” he said. “It was like, catch your breath a little bit. That’s where I feel I’m at right now. I’m getting to sample academia again. I’m getting to be with the kids more, which is awesome.”

He said he does miss baseball at times still, especially this season when Opening Day passed for the first time and he wasn’t in a lineup. But he’s at peace, largely because he knows he came to his decision out of who he feels like God created him to be.

“I look at it like, if I wanted to be playing baseball, then I should have done the sacrifices and delayed gratification necessary to be playing baseball,” he said. “Since I was unwilling to do that, you’ve got to kind of get on with it. So that’s the way I look at it.”

The 2020 season was shortened due to the pandemic, and the lockdown period opened his eyes to what post-baseball life could be like. When he left to play the shortened season, he realized he wanted that life at home with his family more.

“During the lockdown, we were all together. It was awesome,” he said. “Our kids are great. They’re little provocateurs. They’re awesome, though. But I was like, ‘I get all of you a lot more.’ I’d never seen it that way.”

As for school, the goal is to finish the degree. But he might not stop there.

“I might take more, I don’t know,” he joked. “Two is probably the extent of my load.”

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