Bumgarner short on birthday candles, long on talent
Giants' 23-year-old Game 2 starter has experienced a meteoric rise
Chatting quietly while munching on an ice-cream candy bar in the Giants clubhouse before a late-season game, Madison Bumgarner doesn't seem far removed from his teen years. Maybe it's because he's not.At age 23 as of August, Bumgarner already has a World Series ring from his rookie year and two full seasons as a top-rung Major League starter behind him. His baseball career has been on fast-forward pretty much since he left high school -- or, really, before then. Entering the 2012 postseason, the Giants are asking plenty of this left-hander who's always been on the right track. Tabbed for the Game 2 start against the Reds in the National League Division Series on Sunday, Bumgarner has become the Giants' No. 2 starter behind Matt Cain, thanks in part to Tim Lincecum's struggles, but also based on his own consistency over the course of the season. Maybe it's all happened quickly for the 6-foot-5 North Carolina native, maybe not. For Bumgarner, it's just the way it is, and he's enjoying the ride into October a second time.
"It doesn't seem like it's happened all that fast, but whether it has or it hasn't, I don't really have another way to judge it, so I wouldn't really know," Bumgarner said. "It's definitely fun, and it's what you play for. You try to be in the playoffs every year."Two years out of three isn't bad for Bumgarner, who stepped up into the national spotlight in the 2010 playoffs. Completely unfazed in demeanor and delivery but with clear competitive fire, he first pitched the clincher in the Division Series against the Braves, and then delivered a body blow to the Rangers in Game 5 of the World Series with eight shutout innings. It was after that NLDS game that Bumgarner remarked, "This is obviously the biggest game I've ever thrown. But in high school, throwing in the state championship game, at the time, that's a big game to a high school kid. I think that actually made a difference tonight." What made perfect sense as a point of reference for a young athlete, then just 21 years old, also serves as a glimpse of a young man who still isn't that far removed from his hometown of Hudson, N.C. That's where he was born and raised and still spends the offseason on a 38-acre spread -- room enough for horses and the 5-day-old bull calf he presented his wife, Ali, as a wedding gift in 2010. His calm, determined demeanor on the mound shows that Bumgarner comes from a place -- mentally, at least, if not geographically -- where things aren't all that complicated. You work hard at what you do, you focus on the job at hand and good things happen. (Having the frame of a Steve Carlton doesn't hurt, either.) "He's been humble, and I've always said he does things simple," says Jeff Parham, his high school coach at South Caldwell High. "He lives his life simple. He doesn't make it complex. He comes every day to work and he's just consistent with what he does, and that's why you know what you're going to get out of him." Says Bumgarner: "I think it's got a lot to do with the way you're brought up and the people who are put in your path to help you through life and through learning the game of baseball."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Chris Haft contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.