About 2,800 miles east of AT&T Park, Mike Fox will settle in front of his television in Chapel Hill, N.C., to watch Giants ace Madison Bumgarner start Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night against James Shields of the Royals and wonder.
What if Bumgarner delayed his major-league baseball career to honor his signed letter of intent to play baseball at the University of North Carolina.
“But we knew it was a long shot with Madison,” Fox, North Carolina’s baseball coach, said. “He was just that good. I’ve been watching him since he was playing ball in high school and American Legion, and he’s always been the same. I’m not surprised by his success.
Just about every major baseball program on the East Coast scouted Bumgarner when he played at South Caldwell High School in Hudson, N.C., which the locals call “Bumtown” because of the number of Bumgarners who hailed from the town of approximately 3,700.
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Known as “Maddy” to the locals, Bumgarner was 12-2 with a 0.99 ERA and 120 strikouts in 84 innings as a junior. As a senior, he was 11-2 with a 1.05 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 86 innings and led the Spartans to the 4A North Carolina state title.
Bumgarner also batted .424 and had 11 home runs for South Caldwell, not surprising considering he hit four home runs this season with the Giants.
“You could see he was special at a young age,” Fox said. “What’s remarkable is how he stayed grounded. But he was raised that way.
Fox signed Bumgarner, but when the Giants selected him in the 2007 June draft with the 10th overall pick, Bumgarner jumped at the chance to turn pro. Within two years, he made his major-league debut at 20, the second-youngest Giants player to start a game. And in the 2010 World Series, Bumgarner, 21, beat the Texas Rangers in Game 4, throwing eight shutout innings to become the fourth-youngest pitcher in big-league history to do so.
“Yeah, he would have been a junior for us (in 2010),” Fox said. “But he went on to bigger and better things. I’m pulling for him. I’m a Madison Bumgarner fan. He may not have played at North Carolina, but he’s a Tar Heel, and we’re all really proud of him.”
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