Catching A Piece Of History

Jim Murphy has been a fan of the New York Yankees for more than 50 years, has watched countless players don the pinstripes for the first time and, when they have, has been ”proud of all of them.”

But the Jamestown resident can be excused if he’s busting the buttons on his replica jersey just a little bit more these days.

For as the baseball world watched reliever Mariano Rivera make the final, emotional appearance of his Hall-of-Fame career Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, Jim sat in front of the television in the living room of his Peck Settlement Road home and, well, ”giggled.”

”I didn’t cry,” he said, ”because I didn’t want to miss any of it. All I could say is, ‘Wow.”’

So while the 61-year-old watched Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte walk out of the Yankees’ dugout in the top of the ninth inning to remove Rivera from the game, Jim couldn’t help but wait to see the fourth person join the iconic trio on the mound.

That young man was the Yankees’ catcher, a 22-year-old who had just earned the distinction of receiving Rivera’s final pitch.

That young man’s name was John Ryan (J.R.) Murphy.

That young man just happens to be Jim’s nephew.

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The first time Jim saw J.R. play baseball, the latter was 14 and was already a star for an under-19 travel team in Florida.

”He was clearly the best player on the field,” Jim said. ”I know I’m his uncle, but he was the leadoff hitter, the pitcher and when he wasn’t pitching he was the shortstop.

” … Look at his (biographical information). He played in five national invitational tournaments (as a teenager), his team won all five of them and in four out of five of them he was the MVP. You can’t make that stuff up.”

A graduate of The Pendleton School in Bradenton, Fla., J.R. – the son of Mark and Carolina Murphy – was drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft. Although he had a scholarship offer from the University of Miami, J.R. chose to sign with the Yankees, who rewarded him with a bonus in excess of $1 million. He spent that summer in the Gulf Coast League; moved up to Charleston (S.C.) of the South Atlantic League in 2010; and split time between Charleston and Tampa of the Florida State League in 2011. In 2012, he moved from Class A Tampa to AA Trenton (N.J.) of the Eastern League; and this year he split time between Trenton and Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) before making his Major League debut Sept. 2.

Through Saturday, J.R. has appeared in 15 games; has three hits, including a double, in 19 at-bats; and has thrown out three of the six runners who have attempted to steal.

But it won’t be the statistics that his uncle will remember the most when he thinks about J.R.’s first ”cup of coffee” with the Big Club. That memory will forever be reserved for Thursday night when Rivera jogged from the bullpen in the eighth inning, Metallica’s ”Enter Sandman” booming from the stadium sound system and ”the kid’s standing (behind home plate).

”That was as cool as heck.”

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When asked if he had any photos of his nephew from the I-can’t-believe-I-just-witnessed-that moment, Jim pulled out his cellphone and showed off a text message he’d received from his brother, Mark. Contained in the message was a photo, but not just any photo. Rather, the image showed a close-up of J.R. standing on the mound – his catcher’s mask perched on the top of his head – watching Rivera leave the field for the final time.

”It was pretty special to be part of that,” J.R. told Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News. ”I’m only 22 years old and been her for a month and for me to be part of that, it’s pretty neat. I’ll never forget it.”

Neither will his uncle.

On Friday, Jim had just had his haircut when he encountered an elderly man wearing a Yankees cap ”shuffling” across the Southside Plaza parking lot on Foote Avenue in Jamestown.

The conversation went something like this:

Jim: Are you a Yankees’ fan?

Man: My whole life.

Jim: Well, J.R. Murphy is my nephew.

Man: That young kid? He’s your nephew? I hope he plays tonight!

”Here’s a guy who is now going to watch the Yankees every single game, looking for J.R. Murphy,” Jim said. ”That’s not the first time that’s happened.”

And maybe not the last.

”He has dominated every jump he’s made,” Jim said. ”He’s two years ahead of (schedule), but he’ll adjust. I’ve told my friends he’s the real deal.”

Less than a month into his big-league career, it may be a little premature to make any predictions about his future with the boys in the Bronx, but one thing is certain: J.R. Murphy was part of history last week, joining Lou Gehrig’s ”I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” speech in 1939 and Babe Ruth’s farewell in 1948 in Yankee Stadium lore.

”It’s the coolest thing in the world,” Jim said.