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Baseball might’ve saved the life of Houston infielder David Murphy.
Murphy, the redshirt sophomore for the Cougars, only has had 21 at bats this season, and he currently has just a batting average of .143. But no matter his production in 2011, he’s just glad to be on the diamond. And he’s even lucky to be alive.
Murphy is one of millions of Americans that have been diagnosed with Leukemia. He also is one of the lucky ones in that figure to survive the disease. But as with all cancer cases, it didn’t come without a tough fight – one that tested his will to live and his ability to play baseball again.
“When I first diagnosed with Leukemia, I jokingly said I’m going to play baseball again,” Murphy said. “At the time that shouldn’t have been my main concern, but it was. My doctor said, hey why not, like it was no big deal. That made things much easier and has helped me get to where I am today.”
The road to remission and a cancer-free body tested Murphy like no other.
As a senior in high school in Beaumont, Texas (West Brook), Murphy was like every high school senior. He couldn’t wait to get to college, and he most certainly couldn’t wait to play baseball for the Houston Cougars.
His high school semester ended, he had a summer to relax, and then it was off to college to the University of Houston, just an hour away from his home in Beaumont.
Not long after he arrived in Houston, Murphy’s neck began to swell and the lymph nodes in his neck were nearly the size of golf balls. He knew something was wrong, so he visited a health clinic. The doctor told him it was just Mononucleosis.
Murphy was skeptical about that diagnosis. And a week later, he went in for another medical checkup when the swelling didn’t subside. This time the diagnosis wasn’t just a bad case of Mono. It was more, so much more.
“The average white blood cell count of a person is 8-12,000. I was almost at 100,000, and I was at 147,000 at one point,” he said. “I was referred to Texas Children’s Hospital, where they diagnosed me with Leukemia.”
The diagnosis was a shock to the college freshman at the time. Murphy was at a loss for words and he wasn’t even sure what exactly it meant. He knew he had Leukemia, but didn’t realize the severity of it.
He soon came to that realization when chemotherapy began.
Murphy missed his true freshman campaign with the Cougars because of radiation treatment. Missing the season was gut wrenching for the lifelong baseball player, but he had other obstacles to deal with.
The first year of chemotherapy was the worst for Murphy. The side effects to the treatment were brutal. He had severe nausea, body pain and spent much of his freshman year sick and in bed.
“The first year and a half of treatments were pretty bad to say the least,” he said. “There were times I couldn’t even go support my teammates because I was too sick to even get out of bed. But honestly, I still tried to be positive and never looked at any situation as a woe is me type of deal.”
Despite the severity of the first round of chemotherapy, Murphy attempted to stay in shape, something he said helped him progress through the treatments.
After his freshman year, the doctors allowed Murphy to cut back on his treatments. And that meant he was able to return to the diamond.
That presented another tough test for Murphy.
As a standout high school player, Murphy had great range, was strong and was a solid hitter. But now, after much chemotherapy, he was a completely different player. He wasn’t the old David Murphy.
“It was hard on me when I started to practice again, both physically and emotionally,” he said. “In my mind I still felt like I was the same player I was in high school, but physically I wasn’t at all. My body wouldn’t let me do some things.”
Murphy said that even though he didn’t lose a lot of weight during radiation treatments, he lost a lot of muscle mass. As a result, he had issues ranging to his left at third base, and also had trouble doing even the simplest things, such as jogging and maintaining balance.
“My legs were so weak when I came back. It was hard for me to run without falling over at times. It was bad,” he said. “I was glad to be able to get out there and play, but at the same time, it was upsetting because I wasn’t at the same level of performance.”
Murphy finished his redshirt freshman campaign with a .271 batting average in 140 at bats.
“There were times when he really couldn’t do many things,” UH pitcher and Murphy’s roommate Jared Ray said. “He would get down on himself because the treatments were setting him back. But then at the end of the day he’d somehow have a smile on his face.
“He was such a pleasure to live with and he was an inspiration by how he handled that situation. It was so inspiring to see someone go through that with a smile on their face.”
Murphy was cleared to lift weights and partake in rigorous workouts last season. But again, he had issues physically keeping up and batted just .133 in 15 at bats. The silver lining is his overall health improved.
“Working out and staying in shape made the chemo easier on me,” he said. “If I would’ve been out of shape and not working out, I could’ve been in some trouble. But I always made a point to at least get out there and run a little bit. It made me feel better and it made things much easier for me.”
After spending three years fighting Leukemia, Murphy’s positive attitude and will to conquer won out when doctors notified him that he officially was in remission. He was given a bone marrow test and doctors let him know he was 100 percent cleared.
Just weeks before the 2011 season, a party was held on Murphy’s behalf, and family, friends, teammates, coaches and doctors attended. Murphy looked as healthy as ever and was finally was ready to play baseball at full strength.
Murphy has since had another obstacle surface after damaging a ligament in his foot before the season began. But that fight is just mild compared to the one that he fought for three years.
With his baseball career and life hanging in the balance out of high school, David Murphy was faced with fighting a disease that has taken the lives of millions of people around the world.
He still smiled. He fought. He won.
“I always take a look back at his situation and realize just how much he loves baseball and just how much he smiles about everything. He makes everyone realize how playing this game is a gift. And how life is a gift,” Ray said. “David showed that you can’t take a single thing in this world for granted.”
He showed that even sometimes baseball can soothe a soul.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org