The Summer of 13

Whomever said the number thirteen is unlucky never met Kai Murphy.

This past summer was certainly an eventful one for the young two-way ballplayer. While spending his time playing for two travel ball club teams, the Sandlot Allstars and SY Titans, and playing sidekick to his dad, San Diego Padres Triple-A manager Pat Murphy, Kai experienced his fair share of life on the road.

Overall, the younger Murphy hit the road twenty-six times during the summer months, nearly trekking coast to coast for baseball-filled adventure. Yet the first stop on his journey was not far from home, but in Tucson, where Kai got to experience life in professional baseball for a third consecutive year. Unlike the bus-filled travel of the Northwest League he experienced in 2011 and 2012 with the Eugene Emeralds, Kai got a true taste of the hectic travel that characterizes the Pacific Coast League. The Tucson Padres spent their first four weeks in five states, playing series in Utah, Colorado, California, Washington, and, of course, Arizona.

“I like to travel. It’s a lot of fun, especially with my friends, playing baseball, but it’s also always good to be with the Triple-A guys and my dad just hanging out,” said Kai.

The youngster’s predilection for travel certainly came in handy as the calendar flipped from spring to summer. Shortly after the start of the Triple-A season, Kai began playing in tournaments across the country with the Sandlot Allstars. “We went to California probably six times, as well as Utah, Vegas, and some other places as well,” Kai said, recalling his first tournaments of summer with Sandlot. Started in the backyard of Coach Pat Murphy, Sandlot has been nationally ranked for five years, playing a nationally competitive schedule, and is coached by former Sun Devil Rob Gorrell.

Kai pitches for the Sandlot Allstars

Kai pitches for the Sandlot Allstars

 

Shortly after his Sandlot season kicked off, he received a call from Dave Lawrence, head coach of a Central California-based club team, the SY Titans, inviting Murphy to join the team for a tournament in Cooperstown, NY, home of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. “We had played them before the last two years with Sandlot. Our whole team is really close with them but I guess they like me or something like that.” The Titans certainly liked him enough to trust him in relief in an important Cooperstown tournament. Kai pitched effectively and helped the Titans finish in third place. “It was really fun.”

Meanwhile, at the midway point of the Major League season, Kai and his dad had the opportunity to travel to New York City to be with his sister Keli and brother-in-law Pedro Alvarez, who was selected to his first All Star Game and Home Run Derby. Sitting in the dugout with Pedro’s dad, Kai got to witness his big brother perform on one of the biggest stages in sports, in front of 6.65 million television viewers. Between the Derby and the All Star Game, Kai also got to participate in the All Star Gala, as well as hanging out with some of his “old friends” in Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis. “I get a lot of texts from those guys and play video games against them, so it was pretty cool,” he later said, noting how proud he was to watch Pedro recognized as one of the game’s top sluggers.

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Kai’s view of the Home Run Derby Participants

After the break, the Titans invited Kai back for their next tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, where the lefthander again provided dominant innings in relief. Placing second in the Kentucky Tournament, the Titans were set to travel to Memphis, Tennessee for the National Championship-qualifying tournament. Kai, however, was already committed to playing in a Utah tournament with Sandlot. Despite competing without their newest team member, the SY Titans managed to place first in Memphis, clinching a spot in the National Championships in Memphis later that summer. When late-August finally rolled around, Murphy was ready to compete for the national title. He did not have to wait long to satisfy that desire.

Facing the #2 ranked EM Majors from Arkansas, the SY Titans called on the lefthanded Murphy to start their first game in the National Championships. He answered the call in a big way.

Kai came out firing, throwing a complete game two-hitter while registering seven strikeouts and four pickoffs, allowing only two unearned runs. One of the smallest ballplayers on the national level at only 4’11”, 94 pounds, Kai’s ability and acumen certainly shocked his talented opponents. “They were really good, a bunch of fast kids and some big and strong kids with some power too. You could tell they were surprised almost, like ‘what is happening right now?’ I just made them get themselves out. They were really aggressive, so I just knew to throw those pitches outside the zone and let them get themselves out. It felt really good.” said Kai.

The dominant effort was not Murphy’s only heroic contribution that day. After defeating the Majors, the Titans faced off against the Connecticut Capitals that night. With the Capitals coming up to bat leading 6-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning of a six inning game, the Titans brought Murphy in as a defensive replacement in center field. In the top of the sixth, after the Titans managed to tie the game at 6-6, Kai came to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. For the second time that day Murphy secured victory for his team, lacing a line-drive single up the middle for the game-winning RBI.

His day one heroics sparked the Titans’ undefeated run to the National Championship game, fittingly falling on Kai’s 13th birthday. And the Summer of ‘13 was about to get much more memorable. “You want to say it’s just like any other game, but before it started we were like ‘oh my God, we’re on national TV.’ Cecil Fielder was there to speak to the teams, as were some other big leaguers. There were even scouts out there too.” Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Kai greeted a national television audience during his introduction with a tip of the cap and a wink directly into the camera. “Just being me, being Kai,” the birthday boy later remarked.

Yet the wink was far from a goofy gesture or act of cockiness: it was a hint, an invitation into the mind of the lefty, letting viewers know he had something special brewing. An hour and twenty-eight minutes later, with the score at 11-2 in the fifth inning, the Titans were one run away from winning a National Championship via the run rule. Where was Kai? Coming to the plate with a runner on second base, ready to show a national audience the competitive tenacity he had displayed all tournament. They did not have to wait long, as Murphy hammered a first-pitch breaking ball into right field, scoring the walk-off RBI and closing out the Titans’ championship run.

“I went up there thinking, ‘I’m going to be aggressive first pitch.’ Really not a good choice to swing first pitch curveball, but he hung it and I just swung,” Kai said. Not a bad way to celebrate a 13th birthday. He finished the tournament hitting .381.

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Kai (bottom row, fourth from left) and the SY Titans celebrate their championship

Click Here to watch Kai’s walk-off hit!

After returning to Tucson, Kai re-acclimated to the pro-ball lifestyle, following his dad and looking up to his Padres teammates, particularly two Tucson Padres he had begun to view as role models: outfielder Jaff Decker and starting pitcher Robbie Erlin.

“Deck, I’ve known since I was really young. I remember when we were recruiting him to go to ASU, going to his high school games. We’re both left-handed, and we both hit, pitch, same positions, and are shorter. At times I think I model myself after Deck. I also like to pitch like Robbie because I don’t have an overpowering fastball, so I just try to spot up, throw a curveball and change-up, mix it up.” Both Decker and Erlin made their Major League debuts in 2013.

As for Kai, he spent the rest of the Triple-A season with the Tucson Padres, enjoying the company of the ballplayers, including former Sun Devil Travis Buck, as well as being back at his dad’s side. 2013 saw Kai traveling away from his dad more than any other time in his life. Even while away, the two still talked nearly every day, typically connecting before and after each ballgame. But whether he is with his dad or on the road with his friends, Kai is always learning the game, dissecting it at a level far beyond his years.

Back in Tucson with the Triple A Padres

Back in Tucson with the Triple A Padres

After the Triple A season ended and Coach Murphy joined the Major League Padres’ staff, Kai rounded out his summer with a trip to Pittsburgh to visit Keli and Pedro while his dad’s Padres took on Pedro’s Pirates. Always in the spotlight, Kai even landed an interview on the ROOT Sports broadcast of the game.

Click here to see Kai and Keli on ROOT Sports.

The Summer of ’13. Kai celebrated his 13th birthday while donning a #13 jersey in 13 different states. Yet the most important number to Kai was the number one, not because it hung from the back of his oversized Tucson Padres jersey, but because it represents his newest title: National Champion.

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