There’s very little Easton McMurray can’t do if he puts his mind to it.
He’s demonstrated that as an athlete for about as long as he can remember. Baseball … Football … Basketball … Swimming … Soccer … the 2018 Liberty graduate excelled in them all growing up.
But through all the accolades, there has been one constant — injuries. And at times, quite literally, they’ve been a pain in the neck.
The most devastating of those setbacks came in the form of a nagging pain in his left shoulder that flared up early in his senior year, and continued ever since despite a myriad of surgeries and physical therapy.
“It ultimately never got better,” said McMurray, who injured his left shoulder midway through his junior year, but he recovered and pitched well during the summer.
It was just the latest of a number of injuries he had already suffered during his young athletic career. He displaced his right shoulder as an eighth grader and injured the growth plate in his left elbow twice while still in elementary school.
“To this day it’s not 100 percent, it’s not even close," said McMurray of the discomfort in his left shoulder. "I feel pain when I wake up. It’s just something I’m probably going to have to deal with the rest of my life.”
Injuries or not, opportunities continued to pour in for the talented left-handed pitcher, who had thrown as high as 94 MPH heading into his senior year. McMurray was offered a scholarship to LSU and was selected in the 37th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies.
His next move was a relatively easy decision for McMurray, who grew up an LSU fan and always wanted to play for the Tigers. His love for the school was fostered by his father, Brock, a former minor league baseball player who grew up in Denham Springs, La., just 15 miles from the Baton Rouge campus.
It should have been a dream come true for McMurray, but the shoulder pain that prevented him from pitching most of his senior year in high school followed him across the country.
After several MRIs, McMurray opted to have exploratory surgery, but doctors were unable to find the cause of his discomfort. It was later discovered that the pain was being caused by a pinched nerve in his neck.
He tried several forms of physical therapy, but the pain persisted and heading into his second year at LSU, McMurray had enough.
“Every time I got home, my arm would hurt,” McMurray said. “I would literally be in tears as I was going to bed. (I was saying to myself), ‘What have I done wrong? I’m a hard worker, I’ve done all the therapy, I’ve seen the best doctors … What am I missing?’ And I was literally crying myself to sleep every night. Man, I’m at LSU, my dad’s from here, I’ve dreamed about going to LSU and I’m finally here and I can’t stay healthy.”
McMurray decided to put baseball in his rear-view mirror and left LSU. He returned to Bakersfield, determined to find a new path, this time as a football player.
“So when I left LSU I knew I didn’t want to quit sports,” said McMurray, who hadn’t played football since his freshman year at Liberty. “I didn’t want to go back and work for the rest of my life. I didn’t think sports were over with, so I was like what about football? I think I’ve stayed active and physically fit enough to give football a chance.”
He enrolled at Bakersfield College and joined the football team a few games into the 2019 season. He had planned to play wide receiver, but his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame was better suited to being a tight end.
“And it was rough,” said McMurray, who shared time with two other tight ends, starting during some packages. “The first three weeks of playing tight end was rough. I was ready to quit, I was ready to go to work, I was ready to be done with sports. Because at tight end you have to block a lot and I always hated blocking. I just wanted to catch touchdowns. I was blocking guys that were bigger than me. And I was getting torn up. I was like, I don’t belong on a football field. Get me out of here.”
But the Renegades coaching staff convinced McMurray to stay. He finished out the year and was looking forward to dropping some weight so he could compete as a wide receiver the next year.
His plans changed in the most unexpected way, however, when McMurray and some of his football teammates were playing pickle ball — a combination of badminton, ping pong and tennis that is played with an oversized paddle — when he caught the eye of BC men’s tennis coach Noel Dalton.
“He asked me if I wanted to play tennis,” McMurray said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, man, I’ve never played tennis.' But he told me he could teach me. I ended up following up with him and practiced with the team and ended up playing in a few matches.”
Then, a familiar situation arrived almost on cue. After splitting his first two matches, McMurray injured his ankle early in his third match, sidelining him for several weeks. He was cleared to return about the same time schools were shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faced with another fork in the road, McMurray decided to return to old faithful — baseball — only this time as a position player where he could lessen the strain on his left shoulder and neck.
McMurray’s love for the game had started to rekindle shortly after football season when almost as an afterthought he asked his father to throw him a few pitches in the family batting cage in his parent’s backyard.
“He threw to me and I was like, ‘man, I really think I can still hit,” McMurray said. “He told me, ‘then do it, you’re only 20 years old, there’s nothing to lose.'
“So I started hitting and noticed I was a lot more physically stronger than I was in high school. I’m starting to get more man strength. I was like, ‘wow, I really loved hitting’ and I actually had a bunch of D-I offers to be a hitter. There were some colleges that liked me more as a hitter than a pitcher. So I was like I think I can still do this.”
His father had a previous relationship with Fresno City College pitching coach Eric Solberg when the two worked on the Central Valley Conference committee many years ago. They reconnected and set up a visit to the campus for Easton. McMurray had originally planned to check out a few JCs, but after a workout with FCC assistant Pat Waer, he was sold on the program.
“I’m super excited about it,” said McMurray, who has lost 25 pounds in the past few months while training to play outfield for the Rams. “I plan on going there and having a really good year, hopefully making a Division I roster and getting a scholarship. And if not … I haven’t thought about that yet. But I really want to go play Division I baseball and potentially get drafted to the big leagues. That would be the dream.”
Waer, who played baseball at BC in the early ’90s, is also excited to have a chance to work with Easton.
“He’s a tough, athletic kid,” said Waer, who was an assistant for several years at Fresno State where he coached current MLB superstar outfielder Aaron Judge. “I think if Easton can continue to work on his game a little bit, adjust as a hitter and let his physical ability come out … There’s a billion ways to coach a guy how to hit, but I’ve always found the best way is to help kids be as athletic as they can be. And he certainly has a ton of athletic ability. If we can do that for him he’ll have a good chance of continuing to play after junior college, which I know is his goal.”
Pretty lofty expectations, but his former high school baseball coach Tony Mills is confident Easton can accomplish whatever he sets out to do.
“His story is not written yet, but I would never write him off on anything,” said Mills, who has continued a friendship with his former player. The two have spent time golfing together this summer.
“Easton always puts his best foot forward. He works extremely hard at whatever he does. Whether it's trying to rehab his shoulder or working out, he’s just a natural competitor. He’s just one of those guys who is going to find a way in whatever it is to be successful. I hope this time away from baseball has helped him heal.”
Trying to heal has been a family affair for Easton, who has received plenty of encouragement from his father, mother Kim and two sisters Elizabeth and Emma. They’ve all shared in his success and hardships every step of the way.
“Sometimes when you get into difficult situations or your kids are having some difficulties there never seems to be a clear answer to get back on path,” said Brock McMurray, who was selected in the 11th round of the 1988 MLB Draft and played two seasons with the Bakersfield Dodgers before retiring. “He tried multiple types of rehab, went to some of the best doctors in the world, and you know, sometimes there’s no easy answers.
“We were really searching and reaching for answers and it’s frustrating as a parent to see your child come to you and ask, ‘what do I do?’ And you really can’t give him a clear path other than telling him to keep working hard and eventually good things will happen. But you start second-guessing yourself, for sure, there’s no doubt about that.”
His efforts have definitely made an impact on his 20-year-old son.
“My dad, there is no doubt, has been the most influential man in my life,” McMurray said. “He’s been supportive of everything that I’ve ever done. And he’s always told me you can do anything if you put your mind to it. But he’s never sugarcoated anything. He’s probably harder on me than I am on myself, but that’s just because he knows what it takes. He knows how good everyone is. He knows the competition I’m going to face. But he’s always told me, I believe in you, you need to believe in yourself. I’ve always looked up to him. I ask him a million questions every day, and he’s always been there supporting me and whatever decision I made he’d back me 100 percent.”
That respect obviously goes both ways.
"I can tell you, he has been resilient," said Brock McMurray, who is the vice-president of administrative services/CFO at Taft College. "He has bounced back off that mat or off the carpet a number of times. If you can get through it, it makes you stronger. As a parent you just hope you have a run of health and consistency. But it’s been tough on the whole family just wanting him to have a chance to see what he can do.
“Hopefully he can stay healthy because I know how hard the boy has worked. My goodness, the boy is a hard worker. And all the injuries he’s had, it’s part of (the game), but he surely seems to be a kid that’s gotten more than his fair share, that’s for sure.”
So as the next chapter of Easton’s life begins to gain momentum, hope and excitement has come with it.
“To be honest, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Easton said. “And I think it just wasn’t in the makings for me to be a big league pitcher. I think I had some injuries that were pretty unlucky. I went to the best doctors in the world, and no one could really figure out what was going on. I think it was unlucky, but on the other hand, if that’s not the path God wanted me to take in my athletic career.
“I don’t think I’d change anything. As terrible as the injuries were, as sad as I was at the time, as disappointing as it is not to be able to play at your dream school, I don’t think I’d change anything. I think everything's meant to happen for a reason and I’m excited for this fresh start.”