In a span of just three days, Maryland first baseman Brandon Gum jumped from a return to his former stadium to making an unforgettable memory at his new home.
A graduate transfer from George Mason, Gum returned to Spuhler Field last Wednesday when the Terrapins visited for a midweek match with the Patriots. He did not look forward to the reunion.
“It was awkward, that was for sure,” he said. “It was a game I kind of just wanted to get over with. … It wasn’t like I had any hard feelings going back there. I just didn’t want it to be made into something bigger than it was.”
The friends he had left at the school wouldn’t let Gum off that easy. Along with the 10 family members he had at the game, many of his friends showed up decked out in George Mason gear and made sure he knew what they were wearing.
“It was funny,” Gum said. “I got a lot of Snapchats of me in the box, of them holding the Mason stuff up”
Gum picked up two hits in four at-bats, but the Terps lost. Even if he spent the game sitting in the opposite dugout wearing the visitors’ jersey, the outcome was somewhat reminiscent of his time playing for George Mason.
He experienced a good deal of individual success, batting a career average of .300 in 153 games at Mason, but his team often did not fare as well.
The Patriots went below .500 in three of Gum’s four seasons in Fairfax, with one NCAA Tournament regional appearance in his sophomore season. George Mason went 0-2 in that tournament.
Gum knew he wanted to get back to that stage.
Early in his senior season for the Patriots, Gum tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder as he slid home, twisting to his side as his left foot was stepped on. His career at George Mason came to an early end as the team finished 19-35 without him and the coaches decided they’d move on in 2017.
Free to transfer, he wanted to stay close to home and Maryland ranked at the top of his list of preferred destinations. The Terps advanced to the Super Regionals in the 2014 NCAA Tournament that George Mason appeared in and reached the same height in 2015.
“You go to two Super Regionals back-to-back, that’s pretty appealing to anybody,” Gum said.
The Woodbridge, Virginia, native played four games against Maryland while at George Mason. The Patriots won their first matchup in Gum’s freshman year. The next time they squared up, the Terps sent future second-round MLB Draft pick Jake Stinnett to the mound.
“We were just like, ‘What in the world is this dude doing throwing a midweek game?’” Gum recalled. “He kind of shoved it up our you-know-whats. It was bad. I think that game was like 16-1, he had like 10 punchouts or something. It was the best arm I ever faced mid-week.”
Maryland’s pedigree was obvious, and Gum wanted to be a part of it.
Maryland coach John Szefc has a good relationship with Gum’s former summer ball coach, who sends a lot of players Maryland’s way and vouched for Gum. This time, Szefc scored a hitter whose disciplined approach adds reliability to the lineup wherever he slots in.
“You can hit him anywhere, because he runs well, he can bunt. He really handles the bunt well,” Szefc said after a win over West Virginia last week. Gum was moved up to the second spot in the order for the first time all year in that matchup.
Gum is batting .337 with a team-leading .477 on-base percentage. Only Michigan’s Ako Thomas has been on base a greater portion of the time among Big Ten hitters with 100 or more at-bats. He’s also stolen eight bases in 10 tries and has driven in 20 RBIs.
His consistent approach also makes it pretty easy to move Gum around in the lineup.
“The biggest thing is just to look for something hard early in the count over the middle of the plate,” Gum said. “That’s not going to change whether I’m hitting one or nine.”
The approach paid huge dividends Friday night in the Terps’ series opener versus Penn State. Sal Biasi held Maryland in check for eight innings and carried a 1-0 lead into the last inning.
Then with one out in the ninth, the Terps finally broke through when center fielder Zach Jancarski homered to left to tie the game.
Gum stepped into the box hunting for the right pitch. Biasi threw it immediately. Gum followed Jancarski with a walk-off home run.
“It was definitely the best moment I’ve ever had,” Gum said. “The walk-off home run was cool, but the fact that it was back-to-back pitches, back-to-back home runs—that was special. That’s not something that I’ll probably ever be a part of again.”
It was the best moment Gum’s had so far, anyway. He came to College Park to experience the postseason, and with a 25-11 record so far, the NCAA Tournament could be well on its way for the Terps. A stage like that would be the perfect place for Gum to make a new favorite memory.