- Special Sections
CUMBERLAND - It's always the same. For most of his 30-plus years playing softball, nothingâs changed for Kirby Murphy each time he faces an opposing pitcher.
Before he approaches the on-deck circle, he takes three warm-up swings with three different bats. He then walks near the batterâs box with the bat that heâs going to use and swings that three times. He then signals for a time out and takes two more swings inside the batterâs box before heâs ready to go.
âI have been doing the same thing every time for at least 20 years,â Murphy said. âItâs to the point now that the umpires that do our games already have their hands up [for time out] before I even reach the box.â
The 48-year-old Cumberland nativeâs game-day ritual may seem somewhat peculiar. During the course of a game, it might even stir up a few nerves from the opposition.
But when youâve been around the sport as long as Murphy, and have accomplished all that he has in his three-decade career, whoâs to stand in his way.
Since taking to the field for the first time in 1980, the summer of his senior year at Cumberland High, Murphy has built a reputation of legendary status, both locally and nationally. Itâs a career that includes six world team titles, 10 All-World selections, more than 30 appearances in world competition, a lifetime batting average of .700 and power at the plate that often proves unmatched by his competitors.
Two years shy of his milestone 50th birthday, the 6-foot-1, 260-pound Murphy has not slowed down either. Last year alone, he bashed 36 homers in just 16 games while playing in an adult league in Coventry.
And itâs usually not ordinary round-trippers for the muscular Murphy, a former U.S. Marine. Heâs been known to hit more than his share of lasers at the Tucker Field complex that have landed in the tennis courts located past the left and centerfield fence, a more than 350-foot shot from the batterâs box.
âI am just locked into my own zone,â said Murphy, who was inducted this past March into the USSSA Hall of Fame. âI am in my own little world. I am in Kirbyâs world.â
David âDocâ Leach, a former Spanish teacher at Cumberland, and a teammate of his ex-student on a highly-successful town league, puts Murphy at the top of the list among the players heâs seen hit the ball in his 47 years of playing softball.
âIn all ranks of the best hitters in the state,â he said. âHeâs the best Iâve seen. In this league, some teams will even walk him with the bases loaded.â
While he has certainly made his mark around the state, Murphyâs reputation as a softball player has been further enhanced by what he has done on the national level. Along with his Cumberland team, one that has copped the over-35 league 15 of the last 17 years, Murphy has traveled frequently, playing
for more than 12 different sponsors in the last two decades. He currently plays for National Gold and Diamond in Providence, a squad that has captured four world titles.
âWhen I started playing against him, he was still a high school kid that had some raw talent,â Leach said. âHe was just average at first. I canât believe how super good heâs got.â
Murphy demonstrated his talent on the ballfield at a young age, playing Little League baseball in the town and also for a North Cumberland Middle School squad that won the state title when he was an eighth-grade outfielder.
But baseball was never Murphyâs first love. His passion was on the ice. He played hockey from five years old to high school where he was co-captain for the Clippers his senior year.
âBaseball really wasnât my favorite sport,â he said. âHockey was my true love.â
Murphy was introduced to softball just after finishing his junior year at Cumberland and instantly took a liking to the sport.
âMy best friendâs older brother was in the [town] league and he needed players and came knocking on my door,â he said. âI finished the rest of the year and then played the next year.â
And he never stopped.
âI like the action,â he said. âIt wasnât a pitcher-catcher game. There was a lot of action for a baseball game. The thing I didnât like about baseball is there wasnât enough action.â
Murphy, who plays softball from April to October, showed rapid progression in the sport. He caught his first big break while playing for the Blarney Stone Bar in Pawtucket in 1997. He made the tryouts for the team that also included Leach and was run by Blarney Stone co-owner George Haddad. With Murphy playing a big part of its success, Blarney Stone won the âBâ state championship, was third at the regionals and earned a berth in the world championship in Texas.
âThat year is when I really caught the bug,â he said. âGeorge gave me a good opportunity. It was more than just drinking beer after a game. It was winning, which I liked.â
âHe got seen by some top teams in Rhode Island,â Leach said. âHe left us and started to play at the top level, which was a good choice. He just got really good.â
Murphy has traveled to five different countries playing the game of softball. He has quite a few highlights in his long career.
During one game at the ASA Super Major Thoroughbred Classic in Lexington, Kentucky in the 1990s, Murphy went 5-for-5 with all his hits going yard. While playing for the Martin Mizuno Bike of Seymour, Indiana at a tournament in Georgia, a game his team lost by an eye-popping 75-60 score, he went 5-for-7 with three homers.
Murphy admits he gets a thrill bashing the ball out of the park, but he also gets just as much joy making good contact for a base hit. Thatâs something he had to adjust to after the rules were changed to limit the amount of homers hit in a game, due to escalated scores.
âI enjoy keeping it in the park, hitting a single like I do hitting home runs,â he said. âI had to revamp my whole game [with the new rules]. But thereâs nothing better than when you smoke one by a third baseman. Thereâs nothing better. When I hit it 400 [feet], itâs a thrill. But when I smoke one by a third baseman and it gets by him and he doesnât have time to move, thereâs nothing better.â
Murphyâs lists of accomplishments include two NSA world titles, two USSSA world titles and one ISA crown. In 1997, he was named MVP of the NSA world championship.
On his National Gold and Diamond team, coached by good friend Brian Suppolo, Murphy is the oldest among his teammates with the youngest players around age 22. But the softball legend, a fan of former Marine and Red Sox great Ted Williams, doesnât have the body of someone in his late 40s.
Softball is almost a full-time job for Murphy, who trains all year to keep in shape for the six-month season. Heâs in the gym an average of five times a week lifting weights, running and doing spin classes during the season. He also practices his hitting at least three times a week at Bentley Field in Cumberland
âI have a few guys that I train that throw to me,â he said. ââI take about 400 to 500 swings a week.â
When the winter arrives, his routine changes a little, but he still commits a good portion of his free time to staying fit. And come January, heâs back swinging a bat down at the Baseball Institute in Warwick.
The cold months are also a bittersweet time for Murphy when he has to take a break from softball.
âWhat happens to me that last tournament - itâs usually Columbus Day - itâs like depression sets in,â he said. âWhen you get off the field, you know itâs over and itâs like instant depression. You are glad itâs over because itâs been a long summer, but on the other hand, depression takes over.â
Murphy, who has more than $5,000 worth of bats stashed away at his Cumberland home, doesnât expect to store them permanently away anytime soon. Heâs looking forward to competing in the often-competitive 50-plus leagues.
âThe natural high I get from being on the softball field is instance. I canât explain it how high I get from playing the game of softball,â he said. âI am just going to take it one year at a time. As long as I can still hit and someone is willing to have me on the team, Iâll be back.â