Mount Herman VARIETY STORE is a squat, red-brick building best defined by its location: at the corner of Freezer Locker Road and Drag Strip Road in Hudson. Bumgarner stops by in his pickup truck almost every morning. On a shelf in a corner by the cash register, near the dip Bumgarner buys, is a small makeshift shrine to him, filled with newspaper clippings and kids' drawings of the hometown hero.
"People are real proud of him," says Peter Haas, the proprietor. "He's just a real down-to-earth, good ol' country boy. My dad, he was dying with cancer, and he'd be dreaming about talking to Madison, because Madison always took the time to say hello to him, ask him how he was doing. I'll never forget that.
"But tell me this: Why do people say he's from Hickory? Hickory tries to claim him, but he's not out of Hickory, no way. He's from Hudson-Granite Falls. I wish people would get that right. Listen, this place used to be the furniture capital of the world. Now, it's nothing. Nobody knows Hudson-Granite Falls. But Madison put this little old spot on the map. And he's still just Madison to us."
Bumgarner was born in Hickory because that was the site of the nearest hospital. At the time, his family lived in a log house about 10 miles away from the hospital in a community called Baton, which has a Granite Falls mailing address, after which he moved to Hudson, after which he moved to Lenoir, after which he and Ali bought their property in a community called Dudley Shoals, which essentially is in Lenoir. It sounds more complicated than it really is: The four houses in which he's lived, and the one where Ali's family lives, are separated by no more than about seven miles and no streetlights.
Kevin Bumgarner lives across the street from the Center Grove Baptist Church on Deal Mill Road in Hudson. In the cemetery adjacent to the church is buried an Adam Bumgarner. And a Barbara Bumgarner. And a Calvin Bumgarner, and a Delia Bumgarner, and on and on and on. Of the 305 interments in Center Grove Baptist Cemetery, 55 are Bumgarners, beginning chronologically with Michael Lee Davidson Bumgarner, who was born in 1832. His father, Thomas, was born in 1810 and is buried in nearby Granite Falls, one of 192 Bumgarners buried in Caldwell County. So many Bumgarners took root here that this stretch of Deal Mill Road came to be known about a hundred years ago as Bumtown. In addition to the Madison Bumgarner he dated at South Caldwell High, there is another girl named Madison Bumgarner enrolled now in the school.
The name Bumgartner is listed in chronicles of German surnames as far back as 1286, derived from a marriage of families named Baum and Gardt. Bumgartners began emigrating from Germany and Switzerland to America in the early 1700s, with many of them settling in Pennsylvania; some of them traveled south on the wagon trail into North Carolina. Caldwell County Bumgarners fought in the Civil War (W.P. Bumgarner of Company H of the 58th North Carolina Infantry of the Confederate States Army was selected as one of the most gallant servicemen in the Battle of Chickamauga), became the first tax collector in Hudson (W.T. Bumgarner in 1905), pitched on the worst team in pro baseball history (19-year-old Dick Bumgarner threw for the 1951 Granite Falls Graniteers of the Class D Western Carolina League, a team that won 14 games and lost 96), and established businesses that still operate today in and around the county (Bumgarner Camping Center, Bumgarner Electric and Lighting, Bumgarner Septic Tank and Grading, Bumgarner Photography, Bumgarner Appraisals & Home Inspections, Bumgarner Oil).
His father likes to tell the story of how he came to fancy the name Madison for his son: by noticing a headline in the Charlotte Observer about Madison County, located about 60 miles west of Lenoir. His mother remembers noticing the name listed under boys' names in a book of baby names. "It said Madison meant ‘the son of a great warrior,' " Debbie says. "To me that meant son of Christ. We liked the name. And right after that everybody started naming their girls Madison."
He is the only man with the first name Madison to play major league baseball.
Madison grew up with the three older children from Debbie's first marriage, Lou, Will and Dena. "We were really close growing up," he says about Dena. "I always thought of her as my sister — not half sister." When Madison was nine years old, the family moved from the Granite Falls home to a house on Deal Mill Road in the old Bumtown section of Hudson. Kevin and Debbie divorced a year later, with Debbie moving to Lenoir. They began with joint custody in which Madison spent one week with Debbie and one week with Kevin. Then he began spending every other weekend with Kevin.
"Then," Debbie says, "he just chose to stay with me."
Madison was 11 when Debbie gained full custody of him. Debbie is a petite, soft-spoken, God-fearing woman who has worked in the accounting offices of Broyhill and Pepsi-Cola. Kevin is a burly, gregarious cutup of a man who maintains generators for a wholesale food distributor. He used to hand out business cards that said madison bumgarner's dad, but his relationship with Madison includes an obvious, sometimes uncomfortable distance between them. Kevin's loquaciousness, for instance, can irk Madison, who reminds him, "If you said it, I said it. That's the way people will see it."
When asked to describe his relationship with Madison, Kevin said, "It's good. But it's not as good as I want it to be. It's as good as I can hope for."
Why Madison Bumgarner was chosen as 2014 Sportsman of the Year
On Monday's SI Now, Sports Illustrated executive editor B.J. Schecter discusses why Madison Bumgarner was chosen as the 2014 Sportsman of the Year and the athletes and coaches who were considered for the award.
On June 3, 2006, an area scout for the Giants named Pat Portugal attended the North Carolina High School 4A championship series to get a last look at Nick Liles, a senior for Scotland High whom San Francisco would draft in the 29th round just three days later. But it was the opposing pitcher that day for South Caldwell, a lanky junior lefthander, who caught Portugal's eye. Bumgarner hit a home run over the scoreboard in leftfield, hit another home run over the wall in rightfield and threw as hard as 94 miles an hour in a four-hit shutout, winning 12–0.
Three weeks later, after the dust settled from the 2006 draft, Portugal called Dick Tidrow, the Giants' director of player personnel. "Dick, I've got some good news and bad news for you," Portugal said. "The good news is I just saw our first-round pick for next year. The bad news is we're going to have to lose about 100 games to get this kid."
The Giants lost 85 that year, leaving them to pick after nine teams in the 2007 draft. Would Bumgarner still be on the board with the 10th pick? By then, the would-be furniture factory worker had grown so dedicated to baseball that he had called Parham at the coach's home on Christmas morning.
"Coach," Bumgarner said, "can you open up the weight room for me?"
"What was I going to say, no?" Parham says, laughing.
The more Portugal saw Bumgarner, the more he liked him. One time Portugal even went to South Caldwell's practice the day after Bumgarner lost an extra-inning game 1-0 on a home run, a game Portugal called "the best-pitched game I've ever seen." He wanted to see Bumgarner's face and body language the day after losing such a heartbreaker.
"It was amazing to see how stoic he was," Portugal says. "I think he was still [ticked] about giving up the home run. The makeup was off the charts. I've been doing this 15 years. You don't ever think you're looking at a Hall of Famer, but I was thinking that with Madison. I've never done that. But he was that special."
Other scouts weren't so sure. Some were bothered by the unconventional way Bumgarner threw — the way he turned his right shoulder away from the hitter and pulled the baseball far behind his back before uncoiling toward home. Some were bothered by his lack of a breaking ball. Kevin had told his son to wait until he had a driver's license to throw a curve — and by the time Madison was a licensed 16-year-old, his fastball was so good he had virtually no need for another pitch.
The real test would come from Tidrow, "the Pitching Whisperer," as Portugal calls him, who prefers to dress all in black, works stealthily and has been uncanny in his accurate assessments of unconventional pitching prospects such as Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Sergio Romo. One day, the Pitching Whisperer dropped in on a South Caldwell game to watch Bumgarner. He left after three innings. A week later an area scout from another team told Portugal, "I knew it! I knew he wouldn't like his arm action."
Here's what the scout didn't know: As soon as Tidrow reached his car that day, he told Portugal, "I love him." He didn't need to see any more.
The Giants needed one more piece of information: How difficult would it be to get Bumgarner to give up his scholarship offer from North Carolina and sign with them? Bumgarner had committed to attend UNC with two other highly rated high school pitchers, Matt Harvey from Connecticut and Rick Porcello from New Jersey.
"The only way he sees UNC," Portugal told Tidrow, "is if he passes by Chapel Hill on his way to the Raleigh airport to start his career."
Says Bumgarner, "I don't know if it's good to say, but I would have signed for a dollar."
Nine teams passed on Bumgarner, including five teams who drafted pitchers: the Rays (David Price), Pirates (Daniel Moskos), Nationals (Ross Detwiler), Rockies (Casey Weathers) and Diamondbacks (Jarrod Parker). He eventually signed for $2 million. On draft day, Portugal called Bumgarner, who was at graduation practice, still only 17 years old.
"Madison, you're the 10th pick in the country," Portugal said. "How does that make you feel?"
"Thank you, sir."
"Well, you can take a breath now. It's over. You can be excited now."
"I am, sir."
Says Portugal, "And that was it. He's as country as they come."
Bumgarner had just married and reported to spring training in 2010 in Scottsdale when his phone rang with terrible news from Lenoir. Dena had died in her sleep from an overdose of oxycodone. She was 36 years old.
It wasn't a complete shock. Dena had grappled with an addiction to prescription drugs after struggling emotionally with her own divorce. Before Dena's downward cycle began, Debbie had joined a ministry group that helps people with addictions. "I think God worked it out because he put me in that ministry before I lost my daughter," says Debbie, who two years later adopted a girl, now a high school sophomore, out of a home riddled by addiction. "I started having an understanding of it. It helped me get close to her and understand what she was going through. Oxycodone is very dangerous because it will stop your breathing. She died peacefully in her sleep. She just went to sleep and didn't wake up."
Says Bumgarner, "We were close. It was a terrible time in her life. You never expect a brother or sister to pass away so young. But that's the way life is. You're not guaranteed anything."
The thinnest margin with which to seal a World Series title is to get the last out of the seventh game with the potential tying run at third base. Only three pitchers have ever done it. The Cardinals' Harry Brecheen did it in 1946 by getting Tom McBride of the Red Sox to ground out. The Yankees' Ralph Terry did it in '62 by retiring Willie McCovey of the Giants on a line drive to second base. Fifty-two years later, in the 110th World Series, it was Bumgarner's turn, his walk on the ultimate baseball tightrope made necessary when San Francisco centerfielder Gregor Blanco misplayed a two-out single by Alex Gordon of Kansas City. Parham, the high school coach watching in Caldwell County, saw something on television at that moment that told him Bumgarner was just fine.
"I saw him throw his glove up right after that," the coach says. "He wanted the ball [back]. I knew then he was O.K. The situation didn't rattle him. He was like that in high school. When he throws his glove up, calling for the ball right away, that's always a sign he's in control."
Catcher Buster Posey walked to the mound to talk to Bumgarner. The batter was Salvador Perez, whose home run in Game 1 accounted for the only run Bumgarner ever allowed in his World Series career.
"I felt great," says Bumgarner, who was facing his 74th batter of the series. "We both thought he was going to try to be aggressive. That's a tough spot not to be aggressive. You want to be the guy to drive in the run. We tried to use that to our advantage and throw fastballs up, just above the strike zone. It's a fine line: just high enough to where you bait him into swinging, and not so high that he just gives up on it."
Bumgarner, perfectly baiting the hook, started Perez with a 92-mph fastball: too high to hit but not too high to ignore. Perez swung and missed.
In the visiting coaches' room at Kauffman Stadium next to the Giants' clubhouse, Evans watched on television with Tidrow, general manager Brian Sabean, special assistant Felipe Alou and other San Francisco scouts and executives. Evans grew up in Jackson, N.C., and attended UNC, where his roommate was from Lenoir. He remembered that phone call from an 18-year-old Bumgarner in 2007. "It was so familiar to me, knowing the culture shock, how different anything outside that area can be," Evans says.
It was the last time Evans worried about Bumgarner, including the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. A little more than a year after Bumgarner wanted to quit, Evans took a phone call from Andy Skeels, the manager at Class A San Jose, where a 19-year-old Bumgarner made five starts. Gushed Skeels, "I've never seen anyone who wants to win more than Madison Bumgarner."
Bumgarner reached back with that long, slingshot arm motion and fired another high fastball at 92 mph. This time Perez took it for a ball.
Parham began to grow emotional. With all the fuss about Bumgarner's pitching on two days of rest, Parham remembered the best-of-three state playoffs of Bumgarner's junior year, when Madison asked to start the day after hitting two home runs and throwing a shutout. Parham gave him the ball for a second straight day. Bumgarner lost, only to win the state title the next year.
"He wants the ball," Parham says. "He's going to fight you for it. I knew the Giants' closer was fresh, but the way [Bumgarner] came into that game, he was going to finish this thing. It was his to win or lose. And if it's his to win or lose, he's pretty much going to come through."
Bumgarner's third pitch to Perez was the same as the first two: a high 92-mph fastball. Perez swung and missed again. One strike away.
Ross Grimsley watched with a smile on his face. Grimsley was Bumgarner's first pitching coach as a pro, back in 2008 with Class A Augusta. Giants instructors had tamed Bumgarner's delivery in spring training, reducing the turn of his shoulder and the swing of his arm. Bumgarner hated it. He allowed 10 runs in 11 2/3 innings in his first three starts for Augusta, after which he approached Grimsley and said, "I can't pitch like this." Grimsley replied, "Just do what you did before." Bumgarner immediately threw 22 1/3 scoreless innings over his next four starts.
"It didn't surprise me watching him in Game 7," Grimsley says. "You'd have to get a pickup truck to drag him off the mound. He's like Cal Ripken. You think Cal playing all those games in a row is amazing. But it's not amazing because he loves to play and to compete. It's the same with Bum."
Pitch four: another high 92-mph fastball. This time Perez didn't bite. The count was 2 and 2.
Portugal wrestled with his emotions watching Bumgarner try to get the last strike. He had worked for the Red Sox for five years. Boston encourages its scouts to use the polar opposite approach from Tidrow's stealth; it wants its scouts to develop close ties with prospects and their families. Portugal found himself wishing he had become closer to Bumgarner, but at the same time he felt privileged to be there for the dawn of greatness.
"The guy competes," Portugal says. "The countryness ... well, some guys like that you don't know how they will react playing with players from different cultures. You wonder how a kid who never had a lot of money in his pocket reacts. And yet he's still Madison. He's the most mature high school kid I ever saw."
Pitch five: still another high 92-mph fastball. Perez fouled it back.
Debbie wasn't worried. She was sure of one thing after her son entered the game in the fifth inning, when most people thought he might throw two innings, three at the most.
"I thought right then, He's not coming out," she says. "If he sets his mind to do something, no matter what it is, he can do it. He made that comment to me one time: that he can do anything he sets his mind to. The main thing is, he's stayed who he is. He's kept his faith. Seeing how humble he is and praying on his knees after the World Series, that brought tears to my eyes."
It is the simple beauty of Bumgarner. Everybody wants to know how he could keep pushing his body and mind, more than 50 innings into October, 270 innings into a season — and still pitch his best in the cauldron of the World Series.
"Honestly," Bumgarner says, leaning against bales of hay in his barn, "this might sound crazy, but I feel like when I'm out there pitching, I'm the same as I am standing here right now talking to you. I try to keep it that way. I try to be just like I am all the time."
Pitch six, number 4,074 of the year for Bumgarner: yet another high fastball, this one at 93 mph. Perez took the bait again. He swung. He popped up.
Time seemed to stand still. Bumgarner looked up. The foul pop-up hung in the air over the head of third baseman Pablo Sandoval without a hint of danger, neither close to landing untouched nor in the harbor of the stands. The last bit of suspense to the World Series was snuffed out like a candle. Only the formality of gravity remained.
This was Bumgarner's moment. Upon the ball's descent, this broad-backed man who secured the most outs ever to save a World Series game and who obtained the most outs by any pitcher in any postseason would not need to throw another pitch. And after such quiet determination, when the baseball did fall, Madison Bumgarner would be that much closer to what brought him to that moment in the first place: home, to Carolina.