Murray powers forward to Xavier
Blake Murray almost looked like a young child on Christmas Day after he signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at Xavier University on Wednesday afternoon in the Douglas High School commons.
Then again, the Douglas senior had waited some time for this celebration, which took place in front of about three dozen friends, teammates, coaches and family on the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period.
“I’m so happy,” Murray said. This is just the beginning, but I’ve been dreaming about this day since I was 8 years old. So it’s a dream come true … kind of like Christmas … it’s awesome.”
Murray announced his verbal commitment to the Musketeers from Cincinnati on Dec. 21, 2016.
“I’m ready to go. It’s a great school and a great fit for me,” Murray said after his announcement. “I visited Yale and Xavier on the same weekend and I came out of that experience with a lot of knowledge. It was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, Xavier felt like it was home.”
Has anything changed since then?
“Playing over the summer, I just learned to play more free and to play for the little parts of the game, like the smell of the grass and the sound of the ball hitting the glove,” Murray said. “Those are things that I’ve started to appreciate more now that the weight’s off in terms of getting recruited, and it’s just made me fall in love with the game even more. I’m crazy about this game and I’m just going to do everything I can to keep playing as long as I can.”
The step is a significant one, since Xavier ended its 2017 season as Big East Conference Tournament champion and NCAA Tournament qualifier. The Musketeers have won conference titles three of the last four years.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Murray is excited about his future prospects of playing catcher and in the outfield, and rightfully so. Billy O’Conner, who took over in June as head coach after four years as an assistant with the Xavier program, was a catcher when he played collegiately at Cincinnati and then at Xavier. O’Conner has had a catcher on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in each of the past four seasons.
Murry is going to have to wait his turn, though.
“We’re going to have an older set of catchers when I get in, so hopefully I will be able to earn a spot with my bat and maybe start in the outfield,” Murray said. “I’m just trying to show up as strong and as mentally ready as possible.”
Marc Walling, Douglas athletic director and former head baseball coach, spoke highly of Murray’s work ethic.
“He does a great job, on and off the field,” Walling said. “Blake works hard in the classroom as well. We’re excited for him; it’s to see a kid’s hard work and dedication to a sport pay off and we’re looking forward to his future success at Xavier.”
Extra work during the offseason has paid dividends because Murray has added 25 pounds to his frame.
“I wrestled at 170 pounds last year, so getting in the weight room has been huge,” Murray said. “The role that they see me filling is a power guy, a middle of the order guy trying to drive balls out of the yard. So I’ve just been working on changing my approach, to being a lot more aggressive, especially early in the count, trying to do damage with baseballs.”
In the meantime, Murray is looking to do some damage in the coming wrestling season. He compiled a 37-5 record last season, capped by a second-place performance at the region tournament and third-place at the 4A state tournament. His career record at Douglas is 107-25.
“Hopefully, I’m state champ quality this year,” Murray said. “That’s the goal this year. I think I can do it. I’ve got some new tools in my belt and I know I can work hard enough.”
After that, he is looking to finish with a successful baseball season for the Tigers. He sat out this past spring in order to focus on summer and fall ball with the Reno Muckdogs Baseball Club.
“I really regretted not playing. I missed out on that opportunity to support my friends that I have played with my whole life.”
“I’m not going to make that mistake again. I’m going to go out there and represent my school the best I can and try to bring a little different perspective and a little different energy to this program, so hopefully I can be of help.”