NEW YORK - Daniel Murphy strolled into the visitors clubhouse at Citi Field today for only the second time ever - he made a cameo appearance there a couple years ago for a Mets fantasy football draft - and then he strolled into the nearby interview room to find a throng of New York reporters and photographers eagerly awaiting his return as a member of the Nationals.
Murphy may not rate as one of the true superstars of baseball. But in these parts, he remains a main attraction after helping lead the Mets to the National League pennant last fall and then signing with their division rivals over the winter.
The scene tonight, with the Mets honoring Murphy with a pregame video tribute and then fans welcoming him back during his first at-bat, will bring back memories for the second baseman. But he insists he has made a point to move on and embrace his new club.
"You spend almost a decade in the Mets organization, so I don't know if that's something that I'll ever completely wash off," Murphy said. "But I would say the first time we played the Mets in spring training, and I saw the orange and blue on the other side and I was wearing the red, it kind of put aside what had happened in New York. But that's not going to wash off easily. The relationships that my wife and our family were able to build in this organization will go far beyond baseball. But the red gets more comfortable each day."
Murphy was touched that Mets general manager Sandy Alderson presented him an NL champions ring this afternoon, and that his former team made the video tribute for a guy who now plays for a rival.
"I thought that was really classy of Sandy and (owner) Jeff (Wilpon) and the organization to do that, knowing full well that once that ends and 7:10 starts, it's prison rules out there," Murphy said. "Division opponent. So for them to do that really speaks volumes about the organization itself and New York."
Murphy enters this series sporting a .400 batting average, tops in the majors. It's a continuation of the dominant stretch he experienced last fall, when he homered in a record six consecutive postseason games. He credited Mets hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler for helping him make some tweaks - standing closer to the plate, looking to drive the ball to right field instead of always looking to go the other way - that contributed to his historic surge.
As for what he's come to appreciate about the Nationals now that he's part of this team ... well, it involves Bryce Harper.
"I didn't realize how good Bryce was," Murphy said. "Nineteen games (a year as an opponent) doesn't do him justice. He is a treat to watch. That was probably one of the bigger surprises. You win NL MVP and put up a Ted Williams season, and then I go and watch him and I go: 'This guy is better than I thought he was.' "
* The Nationals tweaked their lineup for tonight's series opener, swapping Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. Both players have struggled through the season's first month-plus, so manager Dusty Baker decided to try each in a different spot: Werth batting second, Rendon batting sixth.
If you're looking for a grand plan behind the change, though, don't get your hopes up.
"There's something that would fit both of them, I think, that would fit Werth batting second and Anthony sixth," Baker said. "I just thought that was the right thing to do right now, with how they're both going. Just, like I said, manager's decision."
It helps that Werth has hit near the top of the lineup before and had success doing it, and that Rendon has hit lower as well. Baker tried out combinations along these lines before the season began, wanting to make sure all involved were comfortable should the need arise.
"Remember when I was doing all the lineups in spring training? I wasn't doing that just to be doing it," he said. "I was doing it in case I needed it. Sometimes there is no reason, believe it or not. Sometimes you feel it. I know everybody wants a reason for everything you do. But sometimes I don't have one."