St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Murray signs deal to chase dream

The Jesuit shortstop, a second-round pick by the Brewers, makes his pro debut this weekend with a rookie team in Utah.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2002

The Jesuit shortstop, a second-round pick by the Brewers, makes his pro debut this weekend with a rookie team in Utah.

TAMPA -- There was no doubt in Josh Murray's mind that he was going to play baseball for a living.

No doubt that one day he would sign a professional contract, head off to some faraway town to star for a minor-league team and then show up in a major-league stadium someday.

"It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid," Murray said. "I remember my dad would always throw me batting practice and my mom and little sister would be in the outfield picking up the balls."

Of course, when he began falling asleep to that dream, Murray had no idea of the obstacles he was going to have to overcome to make it a reality.

The former Jesuit shortstop, selected in the second round (No.48 overall) of the draft by the Brewers earlier this month, signed a contract Thursday. It included a signing bonus of $825,000 and a clause that the team will pay $100,000 for an education at the college of Murray's choice.

The signing of the contract also signaled the successful conclusion of a two-year comeback from a pair of injuries that would have led most high school players to concentrate on academics.

"It was quite a thrill considering he wasn't allowed to throw a ball just a year and a half ago," said Lauren Murray, Josh's mother.

Murray's unusual route to professional baseball began in the middle of his sophomore year.

During a game against rival Sarasota, Murray got plunked on the wrist by a fastball. Although the pain took a few minutes to kick in, Murray will never forget the sound.

"It sounded like a wooden bat hitting a ball," Murray said. "I started walking down to first base and I realized I couldn't move my arm."

The wrist was broken in three places and Murray's season -- on the field -- was over.

He continued to show up at every practice and cheered as his teammates romped to the 2000 state championship. He called it one of the most difficult things he has ever endured.

He didn't realize it was about to get worse.

A few months before his junior season, Murray was warming up at a showcase in Sarasota conducted by Jesuit coach John Crumbley. That's when he felt the pop.

Murray had a feeling something was wrong, but struggled through an inning anyway. Later, an MRI revealed a torn ligament in his elbow.

His options were Tommy John surgery, one of the most risky operations an athlete can undergo, or the possible end of his career.

"That was a tough decision," Murray said. "That was huge for my family. It took a couple of weeks for them to decide that we would do it. There was no decision for me, I didn't want my arm to hurt the rest of my life."

Murray's father, Dennis, is a former minor-leaguer in the Blue Jays organization and managed to get his son an appointment with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews performed the surgery, which involved stretching a tendon from Murray's lower forearm and tying it through two holes drilled in his elbow.

Typical recovery time is 12 to 18 months. Murray was back on the field in 10.

"My parents pushed me real hard," Murray said. "And I was sick of sitting around. I thought of baseball every second, every single day that I was going to rehab I thought of it. Sitting on the bench watching the games was the worst part for me. I'm very competitive and it was hard to be on the bench."

As a senior, Murray avoided major injuries and established himself as one of the best defensive shortstops in the nation.

Murray entered the playoffs with a .410 average and finished the season hitting .392. By signing with Milwaukee, he gave up a full scholarship to the University of Maryland.

In a whirlwind couple of days, Murray went from Auburn, Ala., where he was playing with his travel team Wednesday, to Tampa to sign a contract Thursday, to Milwaukee for a physical Friday and then off to Utah to join the Ogden Raptors, the Brewers' advanced rookie team in the Pioneer League.

The Brewers are flying his parents to Ogden for his first game this weekend.

Despite the pomp and circumstance sure to surround the team's second-round pick in his professional debut, Murray's mind-set will not be muddied. The last part of that small child's original goal is still out there.

"Hopefully now I'll be able to make it to the majors as quick as possible," Murray said.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.