Even for Tom Murphy, a man who lives to lift weights and train in a maniacal fashion, there is only so much working out you can do in a day without a way to test the results.
The Seattle Mariners catcher works out daily, using his home “gym” that includes a small set of Olympic weights and some dumbbells. He also does workouts outside with medicine balls, resistance bands and other equipment. He shares those workouts for others on Instagram. As for baseball activity, he’s limited to taking swings off a tee into a net.
Tucked away in his large patch of forest and hills in upstate New York, Murphy is isolated from the coronavirus pandemic raging in New York City. There are few people, plenty of wildlife and trees forever.
“It’s not too bad,” he said during a conference call Tuesday. “I’ve kind of done this sort of training for a long time. I haven’t had a training partner in the offseason in a very long time, probably three to four years. So really doing things on my own and motivating myself really isn’t much of a difference between what I do in the offseason and what I’m doing now.”
But usually during offseason training there are set dates to build toward, for spring training and the season. With baseball shut down, those set dates are unknown.
Murphy was supposed to be a month into an important season, his first as the Mariners’ main catcher. Instead, he waits in a sort of baseball purgatory.
“Yeah, I’m definitely struggling with it,” he said. “It’s hard to kind of mentally stay in it at times. The first couple of weeks, you have a lot of energy, you’re very refreshed. You felt like you’re ready to go back at any moment, but right now it almost feels like the game’s been taken away for so long.”
Athletes become accustomed to the regimented life of preparation and games. They live by routine, and it’s difficult to find that in these circumstances.
“That kind of scheduling and that daily process of it all, and not really having a strict schedule here is something that I struggle with just because I like the routine of baseball,” he said. “I like the everyday grind of it all. You know without that in my life, it’s definitely a different feeling. It feels kind of like the start of a lousy retirement in a way.”
Murphy doesn’t want to think about retirement now that his career is finally starting to blossom.
“I miss the routine of it all. I miss the practice of it all. I miss trying to get better,” he said. “That’s the part I’m really struggling with right now, that feeling of I can only take so many tee swings before I feel like I’m just not doing it justice or any service.”
Murphy still tries to prepare as if the call for baseball’s return to spring training could happen the next day. Though he has no reason to say whether baseball will be played in 2020.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about a potential plan from a major league source. Obviously, I’ve read everything online like everyone else has. But when it comes to what the union is saying, there is nothing firm, there is nothing concrete, there’s not even a proposal on the table. So to make that judgment right now would be totally irresponsible on my end.”
But he has thoughts on the possible plans. If the reported plan of full sequestration for teams and their employees in Arizona for three to four months without their families is enacted, he would go without protest.
“No doubt,” said Murphy, who is married with two children, ages 9 and 1. “I think anything to be back playing baseball would be good for all of us right now. I think about my career, I’m 29 and going to be 30 next year. This game really hasn’t been kind to older players in the last few years.
And though some superstars such as Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw have come out against that plan because of the time away from their families, there are more players such as Murphy, who can’t afford such a stance.
“There’s only so many guaranteed contracts out there where guys pretty much have their lives set in stone and are able to do whatever they want to do, whereas the rest of us are fighting for the opportunity in our careers,” he said. “There’s only so many superstars in this game that are really solidified. The majority of us aren’t in that position, and we are all looking forward to getting back and proving ourselves.”
If anything this pause of life without baseball has provided further proof to realization he’d already found.
“For me, it comes down to the appreciation and gratitude of being a Major League Baseball player,” he said. “Just like anything in life, when it’s taken away from you, you realize how much you love it and how much it’s painful to have it taken away from your life. I don’t ever want to leave this game without feeling like I gave everything I had each day. This down time is definitely amplified that.”