CUMBERLAND - It's always the same. For most of his 30-plus years playing softball, nothing’s 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 batter’s box with the bat that he’s going to use and swings that three times. He then signals for a time out and takes two more swings inside the batter’s box before he’s ready to go.
“I have been doing the same thing every time for at least 20 years,” Murphy said. “It’s 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.”
The 48-year-old Cumberland native’s 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 you’ve been around the sport as long as Murphy, and have accomplished all that he has in his three-decade career, who’s 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. It’s 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 it’s usually not ordinary round-trippers for the muscular Murphy, a former U.S. Marine. He’s 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 batter’s box.
“I am just locked into my own zone,” said Murphy, who was inducted this past March into the USSSA Hall of Fame. “I am in my own little world. I am in Kirby’s world.”
David “Doc” 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 he’s seen hit the ball in his 47 years of playing softball.
“In all ranks of the best hitters in the state,” he said. “He’s the best I’ve seen. In this league, some teams will even walk him with the bases loaded.”
While he has certainly made his mark around the state, Murphy’s 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.
“When I started playing against him, he was still a high school kid that had some raw talent,” Leach said. “He was just average at first. I can’t believe how super good he’s got.”
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 Murphy’s 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.
“Baseball really wasn’t my favorite sport,” he said. “Hockey was my true love.”
Murphy was introduced to softball just after finishing his junior year at Cumberland and instantly took a liking to the sport.
“My best friend’s older brother was in the [town] league and he needed players and came knocking on my door,” he said. “I finished the rest of the year and then played the next year.”
And he never stopped.
“I like the action,” he said. “It wasn’t a pitcher-catcher game. There was a lot of action for a baseball game. The thing I didn’t like about baseball is there wasn’t enough action.”
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 ‘B’ state championship, was third at the regionals and earned a berth in the world championship in Texas.
“That year is when I really caught the bug,” he said. “George gave me a good opportunity. It was more than just drinking beer after a game. It was winning, which I liked.”
“He got seen by some top teams in Rhode Island,” Leach said. “He left us and started to play at the top level, which was a good choice. He just got really good.”
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. That’s 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.
“I enjoy keeping it in the park, hitting a single like I do hitting home runs,” he said. “I had to revamp my whole game [with the new rules]. But there’s nothing better than when you smoke one by a third baseman. There’s nothing better. When I hit it 400 [feet], it’s a thrill. But when I smoke one by a third baseman and it gets by him and he doesn’t have time to move, there’s nothing better.”
Murphy’s 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, doesn’t 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. He’s 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
“I have a few guys that I train that throw to me,” he said. ‘”I take about 400 to 500 swings a week.”
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, he’s 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.
“What happens to me that last tournament - it’s usually Columbus Day - it’s like depression sets in,” he said. “When you get off the field, you know it’s over and it’s like instant depression. You are glad it’s over because it’s been a long summer, but on the other hand, depression takes over.”
Murphy, who has more than $5,000 worth of bats stashed away at his Cumberland home, doesn’t expect to store them permanently away anytime soon. He’s looking forward to competing in the often-competitive 50-plus leagues.
“The natural high I get from being on the softball field is instance. I can’t explain it how high I get from playing the game of softball,” he said. “I 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, I’ll be back.”