CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids outfielders Jonathan Murphy and Adam Brett Walker share a unique method of communication in the field. It’s becoming increasingly unspoken.
“I always know where he is and he seems to always know where I am,” center fielder Murphy said before Cedar Rapids edged Peoria Saturday night, 1-0, before 5,039 fans in the opener of the regular season’s final homestand at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “At times we’re almost to where we don’t even have to talk on (batted) balls.”
The valued familiarity stems from three years spent patrolling the outfield for Jacksonville (Fla.) University from 2010-12, rooming together on road trips and palling around off the field.
“We’re good friends, definitely close,” right fielder Walker said. “And now to be able to play together, it’s nice to have somebody out there you’ve known for years. It’s been really fun.”
Their bond, however, was not immediate. Walker, the Midwest League leader in both home runs and RBIs, initially failed to impress the sophomore Murphy upon his arrival on campus from Milwaukee.
“None of us thought that he was really that great of a player because he was coming from the cold weather and we didn’t know much about him,” Murphy said. “Us Florida guys were like, ‘He’s big, but I don’t know if he can hit.’ I’ve never seen a player improve in such a short time. He went from kind of blending in to being our best player by the end of the fall.”
Walker and Murphy led Jacksonville to the 2011 NCAA tournament but were eliminated in regional play by traditional power Miami (Fla.). In a rare twist of fate, both were selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2012 amateur draft. Walker went in the third round, while Murphy waited until the 19th.
“I said, ‘Congrats, that’s awesome, put in a good word for me’ kind of joking,” said Murphy, the younger brother of the New York Mets’ Daniel Murphy. “I mean, there’s 30 teams. The odds of us ending up on the same team aren’t great.”
Their paths did not cross during their rookie year of pro ball. While Walker helped rookie-level Elizabethton win last season’s Appalachian League championship, Murphy was in the Gulf Coast League. After beginning this season at high-A Fort Myers (Fla.), Murphy arrived in Cedar Rapids to claim the center field position left vacant by star Byron Buxton’s Jun. 24 promotion.
“That was one of the first things I told my family was I get to go play with Adam,” said Murphy, who is batting .273 with 17 RBIs in 47 games with Cedar Rapids. “I came in, he showed me the ropes, (it was) a role reversal. (Walker) kind of took me under his wing, kind of like I was able to do when he came to JV (Jacksonville).”
Michael Quesada’s third-inning homer held up for Cedar Rapids (81-48 overall, 41-20 second half), winners of 14 of 17.
Lefty Josue Montanez (6-5) made his case for a spot in the playoff rotation with his third-straight strong outing, yielding just three hits in 6 1/3 shutout innings. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, relievers Brandon Bixler and Madison Boer maintained the slim lead with a strikeout and groundout. Boer recorded the final seven outs for his seventh save.
The injury bug has taken a bite as infielders Jorge Polanco and Niko Goodrum remain sidelined with groin strains. While Goodrum’s availability for the playoffs remains in question, Polanco eyes a mid-week return as the Kernels ready themselves for the playoffs beginning Sept. 4.
“Coming here, being in Cedar Rapids, we get good crowds so I’m excited to see what the playoffs are like,” said Walker. “We’re all excited as a team, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Going to try and go get a ring.”
The teams play again Sunday at 2.