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Olympic Notebook:
Murphy enjoys summer side project

By John Manuel

September 19

BLACKTOWN, New South Wales, Australia—Pat Murphy is so relaxed in his role as coach of the Netherlands’ Olympic baseball team, he actually thinks he’ll do a good job.

"I won’t be as nutty about it," said Murphy, who coaches Arizona State in his day job. "So I’ll probably coach better here."

That will be hard to do, because Murphy is one of college baseball’s top coaches. He was Baseball America’s Coach of the Year in 1998, when he led Arizona State to a runner-up finish at the College World Series. The Sun Devils have made four regional trips under Murphy (with two close misses Murphy has vocally disputed), and he has kept the program a national power in the tradition of past coaches Bobby Winkles and Jim Brock.

What baseball tradition the Netherlands has involves Murphy more than you might think. He became their national team coach for the first time in 1987, when Bill Arce—"the godfather of international baseball," Murphy said—helped steer him toward the job. Led by future big leaguers Robert Eenhoorn and Rikkert Faneyte, Murphy’s ’87 Dutch team earned a bid for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul by winning the European championship.

Murphy couldn’t coach the team in the Olympics because he had just become head coach at Notre Dame, a program he led to several 40-win seasons. But he started a lasting friendship with Eenhoorn and Faneyte that helped lead him back to the team this summer.

"Those guys, I consider close friends now," he said. "Rikkert is planning to bring his family over to the States to visit later this year, and they’ll come visit us. We’re friends for life."

Murphy has his own family to worry about, one that has grown very recently. Murphy and his wife Argie had their first child Aug. 26. Kai Murphy saw his dad for about two weeks before the coach came to Australia to join the Dutch team. In one of his first games with the club, the Netherlands beat Team USA 4-3 in an exhibition.

The wins have been nice for Murphy, who also coached the team earlier in the summer in the Haarlem Honkbal Week tournament, which Team USA’s college team won. During a hectic summer, Murphy has been across the Atlantic and back twice and now come to Australia, where he gave baseball clinics early in his coaching career, in the ‘80s. All the while, he has been in and out of Tempe, checking in on his program and his family.

"Fatherhood is the biggest change in my life," Murphy said after the Dutch win against Australia in its Olympic opener. "This win, this is a little icing on the cake. But this is a distant priority compared to being a father. I’m calling my wife and saying, ‘What was that sound he made? What’s he doing now?’ "

Faneyte has seen Murphy change both in recent weeks as a father and since he was a young, up-and-coming coach in 1987. Faneyte, who played briefly for the Giants and Rangers in the mid-1990s, doesn’t want his friend to change in one way.

"He’s still got the same intensity, so in a lot of ways he’s still the same guy," Faneyte said. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm and passion, which you don’t find much in Dutch society, except when it comes to soccer."

Murphy knows enthusiasm and passion won’t be enough to push the Netherlands into the medal round. It wasn’t enough Tuesday night against Team USA, which beat Murphy’s club 6-2 at Blacktown Ballpark. More wins, like the 6-4 upset of Australia on Sunday, will be needed for the Dutch to reach the medal round.

With Murphy in the dugout, don’t count the Dutch out.

Setting The Rotation

Team USA pitching coach Phil Regan talks with a gleam in his eye when he discusses the arms on his staff, one filled with four first-round picks, the Minor League Player of the Year and four former big leaguers. In three wins to open the tournament, Regan’s staff has given up just two earned runs in 29 innings, a 0.62 ERA.

"We have some great arms, and a lot of the guys are really advanced for their age," Regan said. "When I was in Chicago, we had Steve Trachsel, and he had been in the big leagues five years before he learned a two-seam fastball. All of these guys know how to run and sink their fastballs. If we had this staff for two years, we’d be in the World Series."

Regan especially likes ace righthander Ben Sheets (Brewers)—one of those four first-rounders—who shut out Japan for seven innings in the opener. Regan confirmed Team USA would set up its rotation so Sheets would be available to pitch the gold-medal game. Sheets will start against Italy on Friday the 22nd, then be available for the championship game on the 27th.

"Sheets is going to be a big-time pitcher," Regan said. "He’s got a great temperament and quality pitches, and he’s a bulldog out on the mound."

Regan also said Team USA was leaning toward using veteran lefthander Rick Krivda (Orioles), a former big leaguer and longtime Triple-A starter, to face Cuba on Sept. 23. Another lefthander, Chris George (Royals), is the other option.

Regan said righthander Roy Oswalt would pitch Wednesday against Korea, with the starter for the final round-robin game against Australia yet to be decided. It could be righthander Jon Rauch (White Sox), righthander Ryan Franklin (Mariners) or George. Regan said he preferred to use lefthander Bobby Seay (Devil Rays) in a relief role.

"I’ll tell you, we’ve got some guys we’ve had to reassure are going to pitch," Regan said. "Look at George. He just turned 21 and he’s got a chance to be a star. We’re definitely going to use him, it’s just a matter of when."

Olympic Flames

Team USA officials and union representative Tony Bernazard discounted a rumor circulating the baseball tournament that Cuba’s 24-man roster includes 20 players and four bodyguards, employed exclusively to keep players from defecting . . . Team USA also got some work in Tuesday’s game for righthander Shane Heams (Tigers) and righthander Todd Williams (Mariners), the club’s closer. Heams gave up a home run to Sharnol Adriana, while Williams gave up a two-out triple to Dirk van t’Klooster on a fly ball to right that should have been caught by Team USA’s Ernie Young (Cardinals). George warmed up in the bullpen in the first inning when Kurt Ainsworth ran into trouble, but didn’t pitch in the game . . . Murphy said he has discussed the possibility of having Dutch first baseman Percy Isenia, 23, come play for him at Arizona State, but added, "If we at Arizona State need to recruit the Netherlands, then I’m not doing something right. But we’re looking into it."

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