Cowboy at heart: Bumgarner on roping, rodeos

April 16th, 2016

As a rookie with the Giants in 2010, Madison Bumgarner stayed with fellow pitcher Jeremy Affeldt.

"I'd come home and he'd be spinning this rope, lassoing all my furniture," Affeldt has told folks.

What else was he supposed to do? It's not like Affeldt had any steers for Bumgarner to practice on. And while Bumgarner loves baseball, he also has a passion for team roping.

In only his seventh full season in the big leagues, Bumgarner has established himself among the elite pitchers in World Series history. He has been an anchor to a rotation that has been a key part in the Giants having won World Series championships in 2010, '12 and '14.

He is 4-0 with a save and a 0.25 ERA in the Fall Classic -- the lowest ERA for any pitcher who has tossed at least 25 World Series innings. That's right -- his World Series ERA is lower than the likes of Babe Ruth (0.87) and Sandy Koufax (0.98).

He's not only won all four games he's started, but in 2014, three days after a complete-game shutout of the Royals in Game 5, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen to start the fifth inning of Game 7 with the Giants holding a 3-2 lead. He then threw five shutout innings -- giving up two hits and striking out four -- to clinch the series.

Then Bumgarner headed into the offseason, where he spends his time with his family on a 125-acre farm near his hometown of Hudson, N.C., taking care of a small herd of cattle and a stable of roughly 20 horses.

He is a cowboy at heart, one who spends his free time refining his abilities as a team roper. The lefty admits that once his baseball career is over, rodeo could become a bigger part of his life than an offseason hobby.

Bumgarner discussed his offseason hobby in this week's Q&A. When were you first exposed to team roping?

Bumgarner: I grew up in a rural area. We have a few horses and rode, but it was more trail riding. I met my wife when we were 16. Her family had a few more horses, performance horses. Her family team roped. How willing were you to learn?

Bumgarner: They did not have to do any convincing. I had been around. I wanted to try it, but I wanted to know somebody really good to learn from. That was her dad, Mark Saunders, and brother, Tanner. Tanner rodeos. Was it a challenge?

Bumgarner: It's tough. Before you learn, I'd say you need to just rope for a good month -- and that's only the start. It took maybe a year to get good at swinging the loop. I thought it would be just as hard as it is. I'd watch people roping. But I hear you handle yourself pretty well.

Bumgarner: I feel I picked it up pretty quick. I still have to break bad habits. I understand you bring some horses with you to Spring Training.

Bumgarner: Our whole family comes to Spring Training. We've gotten to know a lot of people (in Arizona) over the years. This year, we brought 10 horses to Spring Training. I love spending time with the horses as much as anything I do. How good are you?

Bumgarner: Not good enough to please myself or to be as successful as I want to be. Everything I do, I take very serious. I want to do things well. I want to master things. It drives me in everything I do. Have you entered rodeos?

Bumgarner: A few little ones. I try to be smart. They are smaller rodeos. I have never bought a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) card. Obviously, even if I fill it out I won't be able to go all year, and the heavy season for the PRCA is during the summer months. I'm a little busy right now that time of year. When I get done [playing baseball], I'd like to be able to fill out the card. I assume you have met a few of the PRCA team ropers.

Bumgarner: Quite a few. I look up to a lot of those guys. I'd say Jake Barnes is one of my best friends. He's the first (PRCA) roper I have met. He has introduced me to everything. But I feel I have a lot of really good friends in the rodeo world. Which part of the team do you prefer?

Bumgarner: I heel more than I head. My brother-in-law is a header, so it doesn't make such sense for me to be a header, too. We rope together a lot in the winter time, so I will be the heeler.