Designated Hitter: World Series champions got their start in Troy

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It was a phone conversation, so I couldn't see Rick Murphy's face. But I could only imagine the smile he had.

After all, it isn't every day where the baseball team you run has a big hand in a World Series championship.

"I was ecstatic for them, knowing the journey that they've been on," he said. "They've hit the pinnacle of baseball, when you say that you're a World Series champion."

Murphy is the vice president and chief operating officer for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League. The team, which once lived in Pittsfield, has been a member of the Houston Astros organization since its final season in Pittsfield back in 2001.

Murphy has been associated with this team since it moved from Little Falls, N.Y., to Pittsfield for the 1989 season. In that time, his teams have won three New York-Penn League titles — 1997 in Pittsfield, and 2010 and 2013 in New York. But never has a parent club won a World Series title.

"From my perspective," the former Taconic High School and Boston College baseball standout said, "as someone who's been in the game 29 years, to reflect back on when they got that journey started here with the ValleyCats, whether it was here or in Pittsfield with the Mets, it's gratifying from my perspective."

When these players all arrive in Troy, or when they arrived in Pittsfield back in the 1990s, they have a couple of goals. Arriving in the league is the first one.

"They'll tell you, the goal when they are young kids is to be a professional baseball player. But to play on the biggest stage in the World Series, is something that is a lifelong dream for these guys," Murphy said. "To be known for the rest of their lives as a World Series champion is something they can look back on."

There were five of Murphy's former players on the field for the 2017 World Series, four of them got to participate in the championship parade in Houston.

World Series MVP George Springer, a graduate of UConn, played for the ValleyCats in 2011. He was a first-round pick, and the 11th player chosen overall in the 2011 draft.

The 2009 Tri-City roster had pitcher Dallas Keuchel and second baseman Jose Altuve on it. Altuve is a favorite to win the American League most valuable player award, while Keuchel won the Cy Young Award in 2015.

Joe Musgrave, a pitcher who picked up the Game 5 win in relief, played in Troy in 2014, as did Derek Fisher.

Kiki Hernandez of the Dodgers was once an Astros farmhand and played over the border in 2010. Ben Zobrist of the Cubs played for Murphy's team in 2004, and was the most valuable player for the Chicago Cubs in their run to the 2016 World Series title.

"We had, the last two years, the World Series MVPs play for the ValleyCats," Murphy said. "To know you were part of their development, and anytime we have a chance to connect with those guys at spring training and talk about their time in Tri-City, it brings them back to the start of the journey.

"They have fond memories of Tri-City, and it's something they'll carry with them the rest of their lives."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.


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