Murphy's Mets reunion has 'different' feel

March 3rd, 2016
Daniel Murphy plays against the Mets for the first time. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)Joe Robbins/Getty Images

VIERA, Fla. -- The cosmetic transformation is complete. Daniel Murphy stepped out of the home dugout at Space Coast Stadium clad from head to toe in red and white, save for the black flip-flops on his feet. He started at second base for the Nationals on Thursday, walking and scoring a run in Washington's 9-4 win over the Mets. He looked and played the part of the Nats' new $37.5-million man.

It's the emotional transformation that is still a work in progress for Murphy, who would have been approaching his 10-year anniversary as a Met. Asked, two months after his leaving, if he feels like a National, the longtime Mets infielder demurred.

"I'm good with 'baseball player,'" Murphy said. "Father. Husband."

For now, the wounds of Murphy's departure -- the Mets never seriously pursued him beyond a one-year qualifying offer -- still seem relatively fresh. During a six-minute press conference in which every question was about his old team, Murphy never once used the word "Mets." Instead, he repeatedly referred to them as "the ballclub over there," talking about his relationships that still exist with David Wright, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson and others.

"It's a little bit weird," said one of Murphy's former double-play partners, Ruben Tejada. "We saw him for a long time here. But anyway, we'll go play."

That weirdness, Mets manager Terry Collins said, will eventually subside; such is the nature of facing each division rival 19 times per season. Weeks or maybe months from now, Murphy will start to look natural in red and white. He will become a fixture near the top of Nationals manager Dusty Baker's lineup, perhaps occupying the same No. 2 hole he did in Thursday's Grapefruit League game.

But it's clear that a part of Murphy's heart will always be in Flushing. As last summer wore on to its World Series conclusion, Murphy spoke more and more demonstrably about wanting to remain a Met. He rejected the team's $15.8-million qualifying offer as a matter of business sense -- Murphy did, ultimately, earn more than twice as much guaranteed money by testing free agency. Yet until the Mets traded for Neil Walker and signed Asdrubal Cabrera in early December, every rumbling from Murphy's camp was that he remained hopeful for a reunion.

"Nothing malicious in it at all," Murphy said, when asked about the process. "They made a decision."

The effects of that were clear on Thursday, and will grow clearer still as this summer progresses. Collins still recalls his longtime second baseman fondly, referring to him as a "friend" and a "baseball junkie." Murphy reciprocated the kind words for Collins and others.

But something innate has changed, and can never be the same.

"It was definitely different," Murphy said. "It was what, four or five months ago that all those guys were my teammates? I know just about everybody in the organization. But I'm excited to be here in Washington."