Why Purdy's success looks familiar to father's former teammates


When members of the 1995 Shreveport Captains watch rookie quarterback Brock Purdy lead the 49ers, they see the same preternatural poise and competitiveness that stand out to everyone else. But unlike many who have watched Purdy's meteoric rise over the last couple months, they are not surprised by how comfortable the rookie looks in the biggest moments. 

Purdy's father, Shawn, was a closer for the Giants' Double-A affiliate that year, playing for a man who would go on to become one of the most successful coaches in franchise history, and with a few players who later would be stars for the big league club. While Shawn Purdy never reached the highest level, the confidence he showed in the ninth inning of minor league games still stands out nearly three decades later.

"He didn't need any direction or coaching," recalled longtime Giants coach Ron Wotus, who managed that Shreveport team. "He was focused, he was prepared, he was confident."

Sound familiar?

Wotus managed the Captains to an 88-47 record that season and Shawn Purdy, a right-handed reliever, was a big part of that success. Then 26 years old, he made 52 appearances and posted a 3.75 ERA while saving 21 games. Wotus remembers his closer having great movement on a low 90s fastball, while also utilizing a slider and an "outstanding changeup." 

Shawn Purdy wasn't overpowering, but he was always comfortable with a game on the line.

"He really showed no emotion on the mound. That's what made him such a good closer," Wotus said. "You couldn't tell if he gave up a home run or if he just punched three guys out. He kept that bulldog mentality and controlled his emotions. I'm just watching on TV now, but I can see a lot of Shawn in Brock, just by the competitor that you're watching and all the great things you're hearing about the kid and how he's doing his job and staying ready for the moment."

Taken with the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy's moment came sooner than anyone could have anticipated. He took over after injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo and has been just about flawless over the last eight weeks, helping the 49ers close out their season with 10 straight wins and reach the NFC Championship Game with victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. 

The breakthrough has led to plenty of TV time for Purdy's family, but that's not how all of his former teammates and manager made the connection. Wotus found out early on when a friend from those minor league days, George King, sent him a text and told him who Brock Purdy's father was. Former Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia, one of the stars of that 1995 team, was flipping channels a couple years ago and saw the younger Purdy playing quarterback for Iowa State. He wondered if there was any relation and a quick internet search confirmed it. 

"When they drafted him, I knew exactly who he was," Aurilia said. "Granted, you don't know what he's going to become, but this guy is the epitome of intangibles. You can't measure a lot of what he's worth to this team."

For Aurilia, that's a familiar feeling. 

"Shawn wasn't a big guy -- it's kind of like the story you're hearing about with his kid. He wasn't a big guy and didn't have a really powerful arm, but I'll tell you what, I can see where his son gets it from," Aurilia said. "Shawn was one of the most outwardly confident guys. I don't know if I would use the word cocky, but he was a very confident guy and confident in his ability and what he did. He acted like he was 6-foot-6 and threw 100 (mph). He was a competitor."

Shawn Purdy was listed at 6-foot, 205 pounds in his playing days, which included eight minor league seasons for three different organizations. He was drafted four times, finally signing with the California Angels after being taken in the 16th round out of the University of Miami, where he once helped host a young high school recruit named Shawn Estes. He was a starter and swingman early on before moving to the bullpen full time while in Double-A with the Giants in 1995. 

That Shreveport team was dominant, with Purdy closing out games behind a large group of future Giants. Among the players to come through the Louisiana affiliate that season were Aurilia, Estes, Doub Mirabelli, Bill Mueller and Calvin Murray. Estes remembers Purdy closing out both wins of a Texas League playoff series.

"(He was) very confident, extremely competitive, with guts," Estes said.

Purdy spent two seasons in Double-A before rejoining Wotus with Triple-A Phoenix in 1997, when he played with Marvin Benard and Russ Ortiz, among others. 

Wotus remembers thinking that Purdy could pitch in the big leagues, but he never quite took that final step. His career ended after 16 appearances with Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate in 1998.

The Purdy family settled down in Arizona, where young Brock was a middle infielder before giving up the game as a high school junior so he could focus on football. Playing about 25 miles from Scottsdale Stadium, Brock turned into a three-star recruit, and earlier this month he said his days on the dirt helped him develop as a passer.

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"The arm angles, having a base as a thrower, all that kind of stuff definitely helped me to be where I'm at now, especially the quick game and throwing around defensive ends and stuff like that," he said. "It's definitely a credit to baseball."

Brock Purdy's quick ascent to stardom in recent weeks might get the 49ers to the Super Bowl and lead to a surprising change to the organization's long-term plan at quarterback. It also might allow his father to have a pretty cool reunion with former Giants minor leaguers he hasn't seen in 26 years. 

Shawn Purdy and Wotus caught up last week over the phone and are planning to meet up for dinner at some point soon. First, Brock Purdy has a couple more games to win, and his father's former teammates will be watching. 

"It brings such a smile to my face," Wotus said. "It's one of your biggest joys as a coach when you reconnect with former players that you haven't seen in a long time. Now it's more than 25 years later and it just brings a smile to my face, because I have nothing but great memories of Shawn and what he did for us."

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