Eddie Murray visit brings back good memories

ASSOCIATED PRESS Eddie Murray reached the Hall of Fame after 3,000 hits, mostly with the Orioles, and is the grand marshal for today’s Grand Slam Parade.

The sunny, summer sky beckoned. Instead, I stay alone in my room. There were so many other things this 10-year-old would usually prefer doing at that time except writing. But there I stood with pen in hand, sitting at my desk.

As tempting as the outdoors were, this was more important. I was writing my hero. Yes, it was a long shot Baltimore Orioles legend Eddie Murray would respond but I wanted to let him know who his biggest fan was and how much I enjoyed watching him play.

Imagine the thrill I received a few weeks later when Steady Eddie responded. I had been checking the mail box nearly every afternoon and, although I am 41 now, remember the day Murray’s letter came like it was yesterday. It was like receiving a letter from royalty. Life has taken me different places since then, but I still have the letter and the autographed photo Murray sent along as well.

I never had a chance to say thanks so maybe that is what this column is about.

The gratitude goes beyond receiving a letter and autographed picture. I enjoyed a fantastic childhood filled with fond memories. It is not just that Murray was one of baseball’s all-time great players. It was that I, then and now, associate so many good times with watching his career unfold.

I learned as I grew older not to make heroes out of athletes I never met. My biggest heroes became my parents, my wife and my daughter. But Murray was, is and always will be my favorite baseball player. I always will associate good times with he and his career. Heck, right beside my computer at work stands a Murray bronze statue.

So for the next few days, I will certainly feel like a kid again. My childhood hero is here in Williamsport. Murray is the grand marshal for today’s Little League World Series Grand Slam Parade. He also will throw out the first pitch before Thursday’s first Series game. I am a professional journalist now. I cannot ask for an autograph or cry tears of joy in his presence. But I sure can be, and am, excited.

For those who do not know, and shame on you if you don’t, Murray is one of the greatest players in Major League history. He is one of the few players to ever hit 500 home runs and deliver 3,000 hits and also made a run at 2,000 RBIs. A Gold Glove defender, Murray was at the heart of the Baltimore Orioles success, helping it reach the 1979 World Series and capture the 1983 world championship. He later was a a force in the middle of the 1995 Indians lineup as they won 100 games in a strike-shortened season and reached their first world series in 41 years.

Honestly, I do not know how I became an Orioles fan. I remember becoming a fan as a 6-year-old during the 1982 season when the Orioles made a furious late pennant push. Something triggered the love and I instantly was drawn to the sweet-swinging first baseman who would become one of the greatest switch hitters ever.

Each morning I would scour the sports page, looking at the Orioles boxscore and studying Murray’s stats. It became a rite of summer. Every time the Orioles played on TV I was glued to the set. These were good times and watching Murray deliver strong performances year after year after year was a thing of beauty.

Murray was traded to the Dodgers following the 1988 season and also played for the Mets, Indians and Angels. While I always retained the Orioles as my favorite team, my heart also followed Murray wherever he went. His newest teams became my second-favorite teams. I grew up despising the Mets but upon seeing Murray go there, I instantly wanted a Mets jersey.

Still, my favorite memories are associated with Murray as an Oriole. The best was when he hit two home runs in the Game 5 World Series clincher against the Phillies in 1983. It’s a good thing I was only 7 and tiny because if not, I might have hit my head on the ceiling jumping so high watching those home runs sail over the Veterans Stadium wall. Growing up 20 minutes south of Philadelphia, you better believe school was as fun as it gets the next day.

I waited 12 years to watch Murray play in the World Series again and it could not have come at a better time. My freshman year at Penn State in 1995 was not an easy one. I went to a small high school and my first class contained more students than my entire senior class did. I am a quiet guy at first so it was a huge adjustment and I felt lonely.

Maybe this sounds strange, but Murray helped pull me through that. Watching he and the Indians march toward the world series gave me reason to smile. My heart soared watching Murray not only hit a home run in Game 2, but deliver the walk-off single in extra innings a few nights later. He did not know it, but Murray once again gave this fan a huge lift.

The following season Murray was traded back to the Orioles. We were traveling back from the beach when I heard the news. It was one part pure joy, one part anger. The joy was knowing Murray would be wearing the Black and Orange again. The anger was the Indians thinking they could reach the World Series again without Murray. He would make them pay, I said.

And he did. On a day when I skipped afternoon classes to watch the Orioles play their first playoff game in 13 years, Murray drove a spike through the Indians’ collective heart, hitting a Game 1 home run. The Orioles went on to beat the heavily favored Indians, 3-1 in the series and all seemed right with the world.

That same season, Murray went for his 500th home run on a Friday night against the Tigers. I had adjusted to Penn State by this point and was enjoying life there. But on this Friday, the social scene was not for me. I sat glued by the computer watching Murray’s at-bats and hoping to witness this milestone. Patience paid off and Murray delivered his memorable blast in extra innings. He provided yet another wonderful memory, associated with a wonderful time in my life.

Now it feels like my life is coming full circle as Murray comes to Williamsport. I am a kid again and am experiencing all those good times again. I’m not sure if Murray is reading this but I’ll say what I wanted to say so many times he made me smile.

Thank you, Eddie.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse