Madison Bumgarner’s new red Chevy World Series MVP pickup truck is going to fit right in, cruising the country roads in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And that’s just about how the San Francisco Giant pitching sensation would have it.
“He’s not big-headed or anything,” said Crystal Greene, a waitress at one of Bumgarner’s favorite local eating spots, Donna’s Café in Hudson. “He’s just a good country guy with a big heart.”
That sentiment was echoed Thursday by his high school coach, friends and acquaintances in Bumgarner’s hometown the day after he made history by clinching the Giants’ Game 7 win over the Royals with five shutout innings in relief.
“He draws you in with his humility,” said Laura Aycock, outside the Granite Falls Recreation Center, where she took a break from stumping for her son – a district judge candidate – at early voting to gush about Bumgarner.
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People in Caldwell County might debate whether Bumgarner is from Granite Falls, population 4,703, where he played Little League, or Hudson, where South Caldwell High School is, or Oak Hill, where he and his wife, Ali, his high school sweetheart, bought a farm and make their offseason home.
But they all love to claim him.
“We’re so proud of him,” said Greene, who also regularly bakes goodies for the Bumgarners, such as his favorites Oreo balls or Blueberry Yum-Yum. “The town needs to give him a parade.”
San Francisco gets to do that first with a parade on Friday to celebrate the Giants’ third World Series in five years. Caldwell County’s celebrations are simply for “Madison,” like homemade banners read Thursday morning at his alma mater.
Some 1,600 students gathered for an impromptu assembly at 11 a.m. to chant “MVP” in a congratulatory video the school e-mailed Bumgarner. South Caldwell baseball coach Jeff Parham saw a lot of students with red eyes, after a late night of watching Bumgarner pitch, and he wasn’t doing much better himself. Parham was up until after 1 a.m. and rose again at 4:50 a.m. to get to school for his daily devotion he does with a fellow coach at 5:30 a.m.
The red eyes came in handy to disguise a few tears when he reflected on his thoughts during Thursday’s devotional later in the day.
“I’m thankful I coached a young man like that,” said Parham, choking up. “I consider it a blessing, and I’m very proud to have been his coach. And to see him go out there and do what he did makes you feel so good inside.”
Bumgarner started a remarkable October run by pitching a shutout in Pittsburgh in a do-or-die wild card game, prompting Parham to text him afterward: “That all you got?”
It’s a running joke now, but it used to be the phrase Parham used to motivate his young pitcher when things got tough.
“He texts me back and says ‘I believe that’s all I got,’ ” Parham said. “But then he put ‘ha ha.’ See that’s what I love about him. There’s more in that tank.”
Bumgarner showed that in historic fashion Wednesday night, pitching again just two days after throwing 117 pitches in a shutout win in Game 5. Bumgarner went another 68 pitches in five innings Wednesday for the longest save in World Series history.
Parham knows the feeling Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to have, making the call of how far to go with an eager young pitcher, determined to break with pitching convention. Bumgarner was supposed to be off on senior night at South Caldwell High, having pitched a complete game three days before, but with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Parham heard “the mitt popping in the bullpen and I’m thinking, ‘who is loosening up’?”
Parham couldn’t resist the kid who had called him on Christmas to ask him to unlock the weight room so Bumgarner could work out.
Hanging now on painted cinderblock walls of Parham’s office are framed black and white photos of Roger Maris after his 61st home run in ’61 and Ty Cobb sliding into third base. One frame over, Bumgarner is decked out in Spartans home whites from their 2007 state championship season. Now he’s in the company of the all-time greats.
Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA in five appearances for the lowest World Series ERA of any pitcher with at least 20 innings. His 0.43 ERA this year is the lowest since Sandy Koufax’s 0.38 ERA in the 1965 World Series.
The name “Madison” is still punched out in thumb tack holes on a bulletin board on Parham’s adjacent wall. Bumgarner’s handiwork is displayed just under a poster with the mantra Parham preached his senior year: “Talent is God given – Be humble. Fame is man given – be thankful. Conceit is self-given – be careful.”
“I think that sums him up right there,” Parham said. “If you think about Madison, he’s humble, and he’s thankful.”