NEW YORK -- Baseball is the type of game that can give and give and give, then suddenly stop giving without a moment's notice. Daniel Murphy understands this. Major knee injuries have robbed him of his baseball life twice in two years, teaching him the fragility of an athletic career.
He understands it also when he talks to his brother, Jonathan, a senior outfielder at Jacksonville (Fla.) University, who could be playing his final days of organized baseball. Though Jonathan remains hopeful that a big league team will draft him come June, that is no lock. So before this baseball season began, the elder Murphy told his parents, who live in Jacksonville, to consider skipping some of their usual road trips to watch the Mets.
"Go out of your way to watch Jonathan play," was what Murphy told them. And so they did.
"It just made me love him even more," Murphy's mother, Sharon, said. "That made me think, 'I guess maybe we've done something right somewhere along the lines.'"
"Mama Murph," as the second baseman affectionately calls her, is a baseball junkie. Her two sons have been embracing the game for about as long as they could walk, with daughter Tricia playing softball for much of her youth.
Most spring evenings, Sharon and her husband, Tom, are either attending a game in Jacksonville or watching the Mets on television, sometimes with Jacksonville University's game tracker on a nearby computer. Sharon recalls one recent weekend, with the Mets in New York and the JU Dolphins in South Carolina, when she and Tom barely moved from the couch.
In that fashion, the Murphys followed Daniel's career from high school to his own three years at JU to the Minor Leagues and the Mets, attending as many games as possible. The couple typically makes the four-hour drive to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., a few times each season, then takes longer treks to New York, Atlanta and Miami during the summer. Tom, a schoolteacher, may take a solo trip to see Daniel play at Wrigley Field this June.
Often, one parent will watch Daniel play while the other watches Jonathan, and vice versa the next time -- a system that, as it has for so many families around the country, has been in place since the boys were in Little League.
"Logistically," jokes Sharon, "we're like UPS."
After games, the brothers often talk on the phone about their swings, which -- despite one being left-handed and the other right-handed -- are eerily similar. Because Jonathan has been mimicking his older brother's mechanics for the better part of two decades, he understands intricacies that even some big league coaches do not.
On one such night in April, Jonathan was at the family home, trying to help Daniel deconstruct his approach. In highly technical terms, he dove into an explanation of how his older brother should tweak the positioning of his hands.
"Then I got on the phone and said, 'Yeah, I was going to tell you about that whole hand thing, but Jonathan's taking care of that," Sharon said, laughing.
She jokes, even if the more mechanical aspects of baseball are not entirely lost on her. Those, as far as her sons are concerned, are not her primary duties as their mother.
"My mom's the one after the game who, if you have a bad game, is saying, 'It's OK. You can get them next time,'" said Jonathan. "She's very positive, which in the sport of baseball, it's huge to have someone there that's always positive. She always makes you feel like, even if you didn't do well that game, that the next game you're going to go out there and you're going to be fine."
So imagine what her presence means for Jonathan, struggling through his senior season with his offensive production -- outside a conference-leading stolen-base total -- hovering well below the numbers he put up as a junior. Daniel is hopeful that Jonathan may still receive a Draft-day deal, especially given the new rules limiting how much teams can spend on their selections. As a college senior, Jonathan has little leverage in negotiations, meaning that his eagerness to sign -- coupled with his connection to Daniel -- could still entice some team to take a late-round flyer.
But there are no guarantees, so if things do not break Jonathan's way, this could be his last summer of organized baseball.
That is why Daniel approached his parents and told them to attend as many of Jonathan's games as they could. That is why they took him up on it.
That is why this Mother's Day, as on all days for the Murphys, family comes first.
"It's just a blessing," Daniel said. "I consider myself so lucky because I know that me, personally, with my family, I'm no more deserving of that than anyone else. I've been blessed enough to be in a situation to have a mother and father, a brother and sister who have always been so supportive. And it's cyclical. It's not just for me. It's a support system we all have for each other."