From a small town boy to a big league pitcher, Madison Bumgarner has already achieved a lot in baseball at a young age.
The former South Caldwell High School standout turned San Francisco Giants ace continues his baseball journey and hopes to leave his mark on the game.
Learning the game
Madison’s love and passion for baseball started as a child with his father, Kevin.
“I remember it seemed like we would go hit baseballs and throw every day of the week and then play on the weekends,” Madison said of him and his dad. “I think if I wanted to be a football player or a basketball player, he would have done the same thing. I enjoyed playing all sports when I was younger, but I think I had the most fun throwing baseball. It seemed like I had more of a talent for that than the other two. I decided to stick with it. I enjoyed playing baseball. It was fun to go out there and compete. Dad was a big part of teaching me a lot about the game and teaching me how to respect the game. He’s taught me a lot about life.”
Madison grew up idolizing the Atlanta Braves, especially pitchers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.
“When he was little, he said that he wanted to play for the Braves and (manager) Bobby Cox,” Kevin Bumgarner said of his son.
As he started to develop his game and grow in baseball, Madison started looking more closely at the men playing his pitching position.
“I started liking players like Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and all of the good pitchers,” he said. “I just really enjoyed watching any of the great pitchers.”
While he never specifically tried to emulate any of these aces, Madison absorbed their approach to the game.
“Watching Clemens, he seemed really mentally tough,” Madison said. “He went out there knowing what he wanted to do. If I tried to model my game in any way, I’d say it would be the mental side of it.”
Journey to the big league
After years of playing the sport in his youth, the culmination of Madison’s baseball career took place during June of 2007.
Less than a week after leading South Caldwell to a 4A state baseball championship, Madison was selected by the San Francisco Giants with the 10th pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft.
Starting at Single-A Augusta in 2008, Madison worked his way up to the Advanced-A San Jose Giants and Double-A Connecticut Defenders in 2009.
That same year, Madison was called up by the Giants to make his Major League debut against the San Diego Padres in place of an injured Tim Lincecum.
He recorded four Major League appearances that season with no decisions, 10 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA.
In 2010, Madison returned to the minor leagues one step shy of a Major League return as a member of the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies.
By that June, Madison was called up for the final time in his career to become a full-time member of the Giants roster.
It had taken Madison about three years to become a regular in the big leagues.
“Madison is a special talent,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s got a tremendous makeup to go with great stuff. What he’s been through already at his young age and how he has handled it is pretty remarkable ... His progression as a pitcher has been fun to watch. He’s got four pitches now and a tremendous command of all four on both sides of the plate. He can go up and down and in and out. We’re fortunate to have such a fine talent and fine young man.”
A young champion
Madison is 42-34 so far in 101 Major League games with 624 innings pitched and 567 strikeouts.
This season, he is 6-4 on the mound with a 3.30 ERA.
He doesn’t turn age 24 until Aug. 1, but has already won two World Series championships in his short tenure with the Giants.
During his rookie season in 2010, Madison became the youngest left-handed pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings in a World Series at age 21.
Madison’s performance in game four of the World Series allowed the Giants to defeat the Texas Rangers, 4-0.
San Francisco won the series in five games for its first World Series title in 56 years.
“Pitching in a World Series and doing what he did in Texas there was special,” Bochy said. “Last year, he had a little adversity, which hadn’t gone through very much in his short career. To come back and pitch like he did in the playoffs last year shows you how tough he is.”
Madison added his second World Series victory this past October when the National League champion Giants swept the American League champion Detroit Tigers.
Winning yet another title was just one of many stages in Madison’s life in the sport.
“Growing up, I loved playing baseball and had fun with it,” he said. “Probably about the middle of my sophomore and junior year of high school, I realized I had the chance to get drafted. That just made me want to start working even harder, and I ended up getting drafted.”
“You go from wanting to be drafted to wanting to make it to the big leagues one day,” Madison added. “To make it and win two World Series is pretty unbelievable and pretty special to me. There are a lot of outstanding players. Some of the best players in the game play for 10-15 years and have never been there. To have already won two of them, I’m very blessed to be a part of that.”
Close to home
At the site of his childhood favorite team this past Friday night, Bumgarner threw a two-hitter in a 6-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in front of 40 of his closest family and friends.
“I love coming here and playing,” Bumgarner said of Turner Field. “We only get to come here once a year since we’re not in the division. It’s fun, Friday night especially, in front of a packed house. I think it was the first time I’ve pitched when it has pretty much been sold out. The fans get loud. I like hearing the Braves chant. That is pretty fun. I had a good time.”
While it is relieving to see some familiar faces watching him pitch in Georgia, Madison admits the experience can be taxing.
“It can be stressful having so many people come down and trying to make sure everybody is doing OK,” he said. “When everyone comes down here to watch you pitch, you want to do good. The first time I pitched here, I probably had that on my mind a little bit. Since then, I haven’t thought about that. You’ve just got to move on and try to get hitters out.”
The large gathering of friends and family over the weekend series against Atlanta prompted questions from local media to other members of the Giants roster.
San Francisco catcher and last season’s National League MVP Buster Posey was asked after Friday’s game if he had ever been to Hickory — Madison’s birth city — or if he’d ever go to the area.
“I haven’t,” said Posey, a former NL Rookie of the Year. “I’ll go if he invites me.”
Madison would be open to the idea of any of his Giants teammates, including Posey, visiting him during the offseason.
“I would invite him for sure, but he is kind of a homebody,” Madison said of Posey. “He likes to stay at home with his family and kids. I doubt we could ever get him away from Leesburg (Ga.). It’d be tough.”
Goals for the future
Madison’s contract with the Giants runs through 2017, but he could be with the team for two more years because of a pair of team options in 2018 and 2019.
As for Madison’s plans for his future in baseball, he’s focused on small goals.
“I’m not a big goal-setter,” he said. “The only thing I try to do is go out there every game of the year and make sure we have a chance to win when I’m done pitching. Obviously, that is pretty tough to do. That’s really the only goal I set. I don’t focus on the individual stuff. That’s nice and a big honor if you are able to accomplish something, but it’s not the important part.”