State of the Hogs: Aaron Murphree
Arkansas senior Aaron Murphree stroked a hit in the baseball season opener that drove in two runs. On cue, Josh Maxson from media relations announced, "That's double Murphree's RBI total of last year."
Seconds later, Jerry Reed of the Morning News defended Murphree without even looking at the press guide with his at bat total from 2007. "Come on, guy," Reed said, "he got just 37 ABs last year."
None of that seemed worth remembering at the time. Those numbers are going to be front and center in the advance stories of every newspaper around the SEC as they chronicle what might be a record-breaking season for the big senior from Brock, Texas.
Through nine games, Murphree is hitting .457 and slugging an unfathomable 1.171. The raw numbers are 16 hits in 35 at bats with seven homers and 20 RBI.
Oh, it doesn't say Brock on the UA roster. It lists his hometown as Weatherford. He went to high school in Weatherford, then played in the same town for two years while attending Northeast Texas Community College.
"Brock is where I'm from," said Murphree, the 6-5, 235-pound monster off to, well, a monster start.
Brock is just a few miles south of Weatherford, a couple of hours west of downtown Dallas.
"It's about 700 people," he said. "Actually, I think the sign says 865. But we have no stop lights, one cafe. There isn't much to do around there, typical of a small town. You can go over to the Brazos (River) and run some trot lines, do some catfishing."
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn admits he hasn't been to Brock, but he appreciates those from there who had a hand in raising Murphree.
"They did a great job with him," Van Horn said. "He's got a lot of country boy in him and he's really a neat person. His parents did a great job."
As they say, this hot start couldn't happen to a nicer guy -- or after a tougher season.
"He had a great fall last year, really a better fall than he had this year," Van Horn said. "But he just couldn't get anything going at the start of last year and a lot of guys passed him by with good starts.
"He didn't get to play, but we took him on every road trip. At the end of the year, we sat down and I told him to work hard and to come back and something good might happen.
"It's the classic case of hard work and perseverance. It's worked out just that way. But what you remember is the way he conducted himself all of last year when he wasn't playing. Sometimes a guy who expected a lot and it doesn't happen ends up complaining and turning into a cancer. He did just the opposite. He encouraged everyone. He was happy for the others. He understood his role.
"The guys on this team really care for him and think a lot about him. They are all so happy for him right now. It's a good story to see unfold."
Murphree credits Van Horn along with hitting coach Todd Butler for his great start.
"They worked with me in the cage all last year and I shortened my stroke," he said. "It has been about being short to the ball. If I stay more to the baseball instead of that long swing, I'm going to be all right. I'm going to hit more line drives instead of popups.
"Coach Butler has been great with me. He helps me more than just with baseball. He's been a positive influence and he stuck with me last year. I feel blessed to be around him and this team. He's helped me develop as a hitter and as a man.
"I think you are going to see great things from this team. I see the new guys like Andy Wilkins, Jacob House and Brett Eibner. They are amazing. I think back to what I was like as a freshman and see these guys. I'm really impressed.
"Wilkins has incredible power for a freshman. He may have the best swing on the team. He hit that one yesterday OVER the scoreboard. Amazing power. And, Eibner can hit them a long way, too."
Murphree insists he isn't trying for power. He said he's just trying for line drives and has gotten some help from the jet stream.
"The wind has been blowing out almost every time we've played," Murphree said, including Wednesday when he hit three homers in the doubleheader sweep.
"They've pitched him away, he's taken them out to right," Van Horn said. "They've pitched him in, he's blasted them down the line. He's hitting the ball from foul line to foul line."
Hitting them out to right is nothing new for Murphree.
"I've always hit the majority of my home runs to right," he said. "I just try to hit it hard somewhere. Coach Van Horn always preaches in batting practice for us to let our line drives turn into home runs and that's how it's been so far. I think all of the guys have bought into that. We just practice hitting line drives. "That's definitely what these young guys are doing, the new guys."
Murphree is almost like a new guy, too. No one got to see him last year.
"Yes sir, I'm old," he said. "But I'm like the new old guy."
Right now, he's THE MAN.
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