This is the stuff storybooks are made of. Of a small-town high school kid who absolutely loves baseball. Of getting drafted by none other than his home-state St. Louis Cardinals. And, most importantly, of knowing that any bad day at the ballpark never could be that bad.
After all, from his shortstop position all these years, Bolivar’s J.D. Murders could always look through the chain-link fence and find inspiration.
Inspiration being Avery, his sister who 12 years ago was born 24 weeks premature and has long been in a wheelchair. You see, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, is blind, doesn’t speak, experiences seizures and requires a feeding tube into her stomach.
“She’s been a handful for sure. But she has been one of the biggest motivators in my life,” Murders said.
Murders offered those words Sunday, a day after the Cardinals drafted the Bolivar High School graduate in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. With it, he became only the third Polk County player ever selected by a big-league club, joining Mike Tennant (1975, Dodgers) and left-hander Aaron Bass (1994, Padres).
However, the significance of Murders’ selection reaches beyond the historical. It also touches on the heart. In fact, it meant even more to friends in Bolivar and locals connected to the Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper, the PGA’s annual Web.com Tour stop that greatly benefits children’s charities.
Several years ago, J.D.’s mom, Brenda, delivered a heartfelt speech during the year-end Celebration of Sharing when charities receive checks from the PCCC. His dad, Robert, and uncle, Jay Stevens, also volunteer every year for the tournament and primarily lead the crew that ropes off the course, hangs banners and pretty much avail themselves in any way they can help.
This for a family who, understandably, could have stayed away, frustrated by the demands in raising a special needs child. Instead, they showed others – and especially their son – to turn tough times into a positive.
At one point, the family was facing a $7,000 charge for a one-way airplane flight to Michigan when Avery was scheduled for a medical procedure. The Children’s Miracle Network agreed to cover the cost if the insurance company couldn’t, and that’s what led Brenda to deliver her speech at the PCCC’s Celebration of Sharing.
Fortunately for the family, baseball provided their avenue to an escape, to be a family like any other.
Over the years, as J.D. became more of an accomplished baseball player and caught on with a Kansas City Royals scout team and the local Midwest Nationals, it didn’t matter where he traveled to play. The family almost always brought along Avery.
“She has kept me going day in and day out,” said J.D., a Texas Tech baseball signee. “Whether I’m 30 minutes down the road or 11 hours away, she’s the one thing I think about. She is a massive inspiration for me.”
That’s not just lip service. Just listen to his mom …
“Sometimes I will go in to check on her, and J.D.’s ball hat will be laying on the rail of her bed,” Brenda said. “That’s when I know he has been in to see her. He thinks a lot of her.”
Said Robert, “Every sibling wants to have another sibling to play with. There’s no doubt it’s been hard on him.”
However, life has been good.
“Things haven’t worked out for her like we hoped, but we’ve had a lot of family support,” Brenda said. “But we are blessed. She is healthy.”
Brenda has for years ended a shift at the Bolivar hospital, where she is a registered nurse, and headed to the ball fields. Meanwhile, Robert would put in the daytime work in Southwest Baptist University’s purchasing department, which handles shipping and receiving, and then do what fathers do – try to fulfill his son’s love for sports.
Robert himself was a standout high school running back in the Sooner State in the early 1980s and was recruited by two Oklahoma State coaches who later became household names, Jimmy Johnson (Miami Hurricanes, Dallas Cowboys) and Dave Wannstedt (Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins).
“They wanted me to walk on,” Robert recalled, meaning he wouldn’t have the safety net of a scholarship. “Years later, I joked with my brother-in-law that they had this other running back coming in who was pretty good. A guy named Barry Sanders.”
Eventually, Robert turned to Southwest Baptist and became a football-baseball standout. Sadly, his dad passed away when Robert was a freshman and his mom died during his junior season. However, he soon met Brenda on campus, and the couple has called Polk County home ever since.
Along the way, the couple gave birth to a son who would become the county’s first baseball draft pick in 22 years.
In recent years, J.D. concentrated solely on baseball. He has played summer ball for the Midwest Nationals since he was 14 and caught on with the Royals scout team a couple of years ago thanks to former Bolivar coach Eric Briggs, a math teacher at the high school and a bird-dog scout for the Royals.
With college and pro baseball becoming more of a possibility, J.D. also passed up a chance to be the starting quarterback of Bolivar High School following the graduation of Arkansas Razorbacks signee Raef Peavey.
Murders signed a national letter of intent with Texas Tech last November after being on campus there. He also was pursued heavily by Missouri State, Wichita State, Arkansas and Kansas State. This past season, he was All-District, All-Ozarks and All-Ozone after he batted .463 with six home runs and 36 RBI and owned a .947 fielding percentage at shortstop.
Now he is a draft pick of the Cardinals, who in recent years have selected Rogersville’s Jacob Schlesener as well as Missouri State pitcher Nick Petree and catcher/first baseman Luke Voit.
“I’ve put in a lot of hours that people didn’t see,” Murders said. “And so many coaches have helped me and my family, too. My father, he’s been the one who’d go throw with me.”
In other words, it’s been emotional whirlwind the past few days. A good whirlwind, that is.
“We (he and his mom) were in the car after eating at McAlister’s and got the news,” said J.D., who was with the Midwest Nationals in a tournament in Manhattan, Kan. “We both broke down in tears and started making the phone calls. It was a lot of tears and a lot of joy.”