FORT MYERS, Fla. — For David Murphy, the return to Fort Myers proved “surreal.”
It’s where he spent his first four spring trainings as the first Red Sox drafted under Theo Epstein. It’s where a sense of familiarity was forged. And he now has an opportunity to relive some of the key life events that took place — he proposed to his wife here in 2004 — while first with the Red Sox from 2003 until the 2007 trade deadline.
But the experience of familiarity extended into a different realm as well: Murphy is once again joining a Red Sox team that features a potentially organization-changing core.
Murphy noted that he was being reunited with a pair of his minor league teammates, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez. In its own right, the fact that one minor league team could feature Pedroia (the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP), Ramirez (the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year and 2009 NL MVP runner-up), and Murphy (a veteran of parts of 10 big league seasons and 1,110 big league games) would be remarkable. Yet the 2004 High A Sarasota Red Sox and 2005 Double A Portland Sea Dogs teams he played for ran deeper in talent than even that trio.
Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Anibal Sanchez were all in the rotation. Manny Delcarmen was in the bullpen. Brandon Moss patrolled the outfield next to Murphy.
“In hindsight, you know how special it was, whether you look at in terms of accolades and success, whether you look at it in terms of money — how much players on those teams have earned through the course of their careers, whether you look at World Series championships,” Murphy reflected. “It’s pretty cool that you can put a group like that together.”
Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo was a manager for the Akron Aeros, the Cleveland Indians’ Double A affiliate, in 2005. His Akron team beat Portland in the Eastern League championship series. Yet from the other side of the diamond, he recognized the glimmer of something transformative.
“Their team left an impression on me,” said Lovullo, who managed against Portland after Papelbon and Pedroia had been promoted. “I could see that group was going to be responsible for helping them win world championships. I can see why that group was special.”
Such assessments have particular salience for a Red Sox team whose strength is a young core that has joined veterans like Pedroia and David Ortiz. That young core is the Red Sox’ deepest pool of major-league ready talent younger than 25 they’ve had since the group Murphy was a part of roughly a decade ago.
“This group here now is pretty special. They’re best friends, they live together, they talk baseball. Being a Boston Red Sox and winning world championships is the most important thing to them. They talk about it every day,” said Lovullo. “That’s what I get to see every day. Not only do they talk about it, but they believe they’re established big leaguers who can go out, function, and help us win games. That’s very powerful.”
The ability of elite young players to push each other can create a feedback loop that elevates an organization and fuels championship-caliber ambitions and abilities. In that sense, Murphy and the Red Sox hope the past is prologue.
“When you play with talented players, you become better. Watching them go about their business and perform on the field inspires you to be better. I feel like playing with that group of guys coming up made me a better player,” said Murphy. “You need your veteran guys who have been there, that are going to lead the way, show the young guys how to do things. But there’s so much to be said about youth and the energy that youth infuses into a clubhouse and into a team on the field. Youth is very important in winning a championship at the major league level.”