PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
In the Mets' minor-league clubhouse, high atop a row of lockers, an old television showed a blurry image of Wednesday's series finale against the Nationals. The satellite hookup was so bad that it was difficult to figure out the players on the screen, but Daniel Murphy kept glancing over his shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on at Citi Field.
With the scrambled signal, the SNY broadcast looked like the video feed from the first Apollo landing, and to Murphy, stuck in Port St. Lucie, the Mets might as well be playing on the moon.
That's how far away the major-league club feels when you're doing time on a rehab assignment, and it stings a little more for Murphy, who essentially lost his job when he suffered a sprained knee only six days before the April 5 season opener.
The stoic Murphy usually doesn't reveal much, but when asked if the sudden turn of events is the most difficult thing he's had to endure in his baseball career, his response was immediate.
"Yeah," he said. "You do everything you're supposed to do in the offseason to get ready, and I was feeling really good at the plate before we left, before I got hurt - but that's baseball. Everybody gets injuries. You just do what you can to get healthy. It will all work out in the end. It's just one of those things you can't control."
Murphy was so close to opening the season with the Mets that he already had begun trying on the new crème-colored pinstripe uniforms stacked in boxes around the clubhouse, waiting to be shipped north.
One minute he's working with Keith Hernandez, the 11-time Gold Glover, in an effort to prove the skeptics wrong about his defensive ability. The next, Murphy is being told he'll need two to six weeks to recover from the Grade 1 sprain of his right knee, the result of a rundown in a meaningless exhibition game.
At that time, six weeks seemed like an overly cautious estimate, a way for the Mets to guard against the criticism they endured for their medical misadventures of last season. Today, however, will be exactly 45 days since the team announced that prognosis, and Murphy has yet to run the bases in an extended spring game.
On Wednesday morning, he participated in his usual conditioning drills and took infield (at first base) as well as batting practice before a noon game against the visiting Cardinals on Field 7, the chain-link replica of Citi Field. Murphy played first base, but after a line-drive single in his first at-bat, he was replaced by a pinch runner.
After his removal from the game, Murphy did baserunning drills under the supervision of the Mets' rehab staff.
"I've been running the bases the past couple of days, and it gets better every day," he said Wednesday. "That's the best I've felt. I'm probably about 80 percent. I'm getting close."
"Close to what?" is the bigger question. Omar Minaya already has told Murphy that he'll report to Triple-A Buffalo when he's healthy enough to play, and the plan is for him to work on becoming more of a utility player. That means returning to leftfield and even trying second base in addition to playing first, the position where he now is most comfortable.
Murphy did not take grounders anywhere but first base Wednesday, and when the subject of learning more positions at Buffalo was brought up, it didn't seem to be his favorite topic. Rather than toe the company line and give the standard "new challenges" cliche, Murphy wouldn't play along.
"I'm just looking forward to getting healthy right now, to tell you the truth," Murphy said. "I just want to be healthy."
For now, Murphy - like Carlos Beltran - is wearing a brace on his knee, but he expects to shed that once he gets to Buffalo.
In the meantime, Murphy says he listens to all of the Mets games on the radio while in Port St. Lucie. But when asked about taking the 90-minute drive down to Miami this weekend to visit his Mets teammates, he seemed reluctant, though two others on the disabled list, Beltran and Ryota Igarashi, said they were looking forward to the reunion.
"I haven't really thought about it that much," Murphy said. "They're going down there to do their job and I don't want to get in the way. I've got work to do, too. When I'm ready, I'll be back there, trying to help them win."