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Opening Day With Murph

Murph (featured)

by Mark Jent

For a kid of the 80’s who grew up in the south with SuperStation TBS, Dale Murphy was larger than life and might as well have been a modern day Babe Ruth. With his powerful swing, speed on the base paths, defensive prowess in the outfield and annual appearances in the mid-summer classic, Dale Bryan Murphy was the greatest baseball player within a nearly 500 mile radius of Atlanta, Georgia. Thumb tacking a poster to their bedroom wall of Murphy standing in a back alley donning the Braves power blue uniform with a lightsaber in hand is a lasting memory for countless Gen Xer’s across the country. 

For those of you who who haven’t checked his Baseball Reference page recently, let’s recall the facts on his career: Dale Murphy did not miss a game in four straight seasons (1982-85), he led the league in homeruns twice (1984-85), made seven All-Star Games (1980, 1982-87), won five Gold Gloves (1982-86), won four Silver Slugger awards (1982-85) and won two MVP awards (1982-83). Dale Murphy wasn’t just a good baseball player, for a stretch of time he was a great baseball player and in the conversation as the best in the game.

The Murphy Power Alley poster on display on the wall of Murph’s.

He arrived in Atlanta in 1976 less than two years after Hank Aaron left for Milwaukee. He was traded to the Phillies in 1990, the season before that iconic worst-to-first ‘91 Braves team captured America’s attention by making it to the Fall Classic. In between his quiet arrival and disappointing departure, he played in a whopping 3 playoff games (1982). Unfortunately during his 15 years in Atlanta, the Braves were less than subpar and he was the main attraction with few supporting actors playing around him.

Side note: I like moments, whether planned and created or spontaneous. I enjoy the thrill of what could be an unforgettable moment. I’ve been fortunate to have several of these baseball-related moments over the years. They are always more fun with other fans, friends or family. As I prepared for the Braves Opening Day trip in 2019 I was in trip planning mode – there were tickets to buy, transportation to reserve, a ballpark tour to book and of course, marketing to sell the spots. A few weeks prior I had a fleeting thought that eventually did not become so fleeting.

“Dale Murphy’s new restaurant just opened across from the ballpark. I wonder if we can get there in time to have lunch before our ballpark tour?”

I dropped an email to the general manager of Murph’s to inquire about a group reservation. He kindly replied that he had us booked. While continuing to plan, I saw on social media that Dale would often frequent his own establishment! Of course he does, that’s the best marketing strategy of all time. That’s when a thought came to mind that was never fleeting, “This will be Murph’s first Opening Day. I bet he’s going to be there all day leading up to game time, that place will be packed. I want to see if we can get Dale Murphy to surprise our group.” 

Another email was sent to the restaurant GM with an expected response declined due to “not knowing his schedule.” With this not being my first rodeo, I completely understood the non-commitment, yet I pressed on in my mind like it was inevitable that the magic would happen. Yet, the magic wasn’t for me – I had met him before. My desire for this to happen was for the other 14 people in our group, many of who grew up idolizing #3. 

For most of our group this was their first time to the Braves new Suntrust Park, it was their first time to take a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour and it was their first Braves Opening Day. If there was a remote chance we could kick it off with this encounter, that would be an even more incredible day of baseball! 

Upon our 12:30 arrival at Murph’s, the general manager pulled me to the side to quietly give me an update, “I’m expecting him to be here around 2:00.” 

Well that was great news, thank you! My heart started to race as what was once just a wild hair idea now might actually happen. But, the challenge was that our ballpark tour was also scheduled for 2:00! I stepped away from the group to put in a phone call to my ballpark tour rep with a request “Could we possibly push back our tour a few minutes? We are across the street about to have a meet-n-greet with Dale Murphy?” They graciously and kindly obliged. 

I don’t recall what I ate for lunch that day or who I sat beside, but I do recall constantly looking for any 6’4 men walking through the door. I was fidgety, yet hopeful. I had maintained my silence to our group that this was even a remote possibility. 

At 1:45 as our checks began to arrive, a thunderous applause erupted as the man himself walked in the front doors. It sounded like he had just cranked a three run bomb into the left field seats of the old Fulton County Stadium. He made it, but now what – would we get our moment? I decided to just patiently wait, optimistic that my four week old wish would be granted.  

A couple of minutes later, Dale Murphy emerged from the kitchen and comes directly to our table of 15 asking where we are from, what did we order, had we been to the new ballpark before, etc…I looked around our table and there some with their mouths wide open in disbelief, others just laughing and one was in a puddle of tears weeping (literally). He proceeds to invite us all to join him for pictures in front of the number 3 sign.

We took a group picture you see as the featured image, he took individual pictures, he listened to stories, he answered questions, he thanked us for coming to eat at his restaurant. He was the epitome of the Dale Murphy you’ve already heard and read about. It was everything and more that a chief trip planner could hope for. I eventually smirked when some asked if I knew this was going to happen, but it wasn’t about me, it was about them and their adventure.

It’s been two years since that Opening Day with Murph. Brian Holaway and Erin Gribben from our group both grew up fans of the Braves star outfielder and recently with me shared their reflections from that day. 

Brian Holaway says, “Growing up in Georgia, Dale Murphy was the larger-than-life local hero. I’d seen many games and ceremonies where he was either the focus or an honored guest. Meeting him in person in his restaurant that day brought all of those memories back to influence a new one where Dale walked in and spent time with fans as if that moment was what he had waited for his entire life – just like us.”

Erin Gribben says, “I’ve been a Braves fan since I was 7 years old. On my 9th birthday in 1986 I was honored to walk the field before a game and Dale Murphy was at one of the tables. He was so nice and kind. He engaged with every child that passed him. By the time I was 20 I had attended over 150 Braves games. From living in Chattanooga to Athens, Georgia, I made that trip to watch the Braves so often it was a normal routine. 

Erin continues, “In late 2018 I won a Simply A Fan package at a charity auction that would send my husband and I to Atlanta for Opening Day in 2019. We were 41 years old. Much to my surprise, 32 years after meeting Dale Murphy for the first time, I had the honor of meeting him again. This time in his own restaurant, as a retired player. I had no idea he would be there. But when I saw him, it brought back all those memories from being a 9 year old kid. The memories of having an idol that wasn’t just an amazing ball player, but a humble and amazing person. He had not changed a bit. It is an amazing feeling when your idol as a kid is still your idol as an adult. It is even better when you meet them in totally different stages of life and they haven’t changed. The world needs more of the Dale Murphys. I am honored to have met him and strive to be a good person no matter what life stage I am in.”

Dale Murphy hit a home run that day; a grand slam walk-off in the bottom of the 9th in fact. In that moment, he didn’t care about his stats, awards or accomplishments – he genuinely cared about us and took the time to show gratitude to those of us who once idolized him when we were kids. Well done Murph.

When you’re in Atlanta for a ballgame, check out Murph’s. Who knows, maybe you’ll bump into number 3.  https://eatatmurphs.com/

FEATURED IMAGE:
Simply A Fan group with Dale Murphy
Murph’s Restaurant – Atlanta, Georgia
Braves Opening Day 2019

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