DAN BICKLEY

A fictitious look at Opening Day for Diamondbacks, Madison Bumgarner

Mar 26, 2020, 6:45 PM
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws prior to the first inning of a spring trainin...

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws prior to the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Scottsdale Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is a work of fiction. But it could’ve, would’ve and should’ve been true.)

Madison Bumgarner stood at his locker, looking down on the media crowding his space. He wore a half-smile and a T-shirt that read, “It was me. I let the dogs out.” He carried a hint of warmness and trace of wariness. An ice pack was wrapped around his left shoulder. An unspoken agreement was clearly in effect among the local media.

Baseball questions only. No more personal details. Not after the blockbuster account of Mason Saunders, a scoop that will not be topped in the coming months.

But Opening Day in Arizona was a really big deal. Bumgarner was the second-best story in Major League Baseball on Thursday, behind the Astros’ home opener in Houston, following a tumultuous offseason full of venom and collateral damage. There were a lot of national journalists in the Chase Field press box, and for good reason.

Bumgarner is a World Series hero and a three-time champion; he helps save rabbits stuck inside dead rattlesnakes; he risked free agency and an $85 million contract he signed to play baseball in Arizona to lasso $26,000 in a rodeo tournament.

He makes his own priorities. Who doesn’t respect that?

Either way, his first start with the Diamondbacks was a success, far better than anything Zack Greinke ever accomplished on Opening Day in Arizona. Bumgarner pitched 6.2 innings and struck out 10. He hit another home run at Chase Field, his 18th home run since 2014. He might make a prophet out of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who predicted a double-digit home run output for Bumgarner in 2020.

Of course, it was a struggle. Bumgarner earned his first win in Arizona after a wild ninth inning, when Archie Bradley loaded the bases and then promptly struck out the side. The crowd went bananas. The clubhouse was upbeat. Jake Lamb was seen dancing and David Peralta’s smile lit up the room. And then a national media member dared ask about Mason Saunders.

“Madison, do you think your rodeo exploits over the offseason add to your legend, make you more popular in a place like Arizona?” asked a columnist from a national publication.

“I think today was a good day,” Bumgarner said. “Almost getting a full seven (innings) on the first time out, getting up and down, getting the win, getting us off on a good start. That’s what matters to me.”

And then Bumgarner turned around, facing the inside of his locker, ending all interviews and drawing even more lines in the sand.

Bumgarner’s reluctance to embrace his alter ego remains one of the most fascinating stories in baseball. His presence in Arizona represents a huge shift in the National League West. Once, the great Randy Johnson left the Valley to win his 300th game in San Francisco. Now, the tables have turned.

Bumgarner has the talent, authenticity, defiance and general bad-assery to lift the Diamondbacks to another level. He fits better in Arizona than he ever did in San Francisco, the first city in the nation to ban chewing tobacco at its ballparks. I’m sure Bumgarner loved that.

By the way, his other car is a horse. He belongs here.

After one game, it’s clear that Bumgarner will be as impactful to the Diamondbacks as DeAndre Hopkins is to the Cardinals. Because he inspires people. He scares people. He raises the bar significantly. For proof, consider the postgame demeanor of Bradley, a veteran of high-leverage baseball.

Bradley was noticeably relieved that he didn’t blow Bumgarner’s debut at Chase Field during that chaotic ninth inning, costing the new ace his first victory.

“Earlier in the spring, Skip (Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo) joked about how MadBum would throw him off a building if MadBum wasn’t named the Opening Day starter,” Bradley said. “Imagine what he would’ve done to me.”

So, off we go. A new season is underway. Bumgarner’s performance was just what Arizona needed, even if it will rank second on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” behind the raucous, delusional show of appreciation Houston fans bestowed upon their filthy Astros.

The sign-stealing champions received a standing ovation during the national anthem. Astros fans littered the field with cups and debris when Angels starter Andrew Heaney beaned Jose Altuve in the first inning. Heaney was a fierce critic of the Astros during the offseason, and he was eventually thrown out of the game for hitting Alex Bregman with another reckless pitch later in the game.

This promises to be a strange baseball season.

But in Arizona, we’re 1-0. Nothing can stop us now.

Dan Bickley

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A fictitious look at Opening Day for Diamondbacks, Madison Bumgarner