MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Do you recall the scene in the movie Animal House when Omega pledge Chip (played by actor Kevin Bacon) is being paddled as part of the fraternity’s initiation, exclaiming Thank you sir may I have another?
Well, West Virginia senior designated hitter Jeremy Gum may not be saying that out loud when he’s getting nailed by pitches, but he’s certainly thinking it.
Gum has been drilled a school record 23 times, including two during last weekend’s three-game series against Rutgers. Yes, you could say Gum is bringing new meaning to his role as the team’s designated hitter.
“All of the coaches really emphasize on base percentage,” Gum explained. “Batting average is all well and good, but if you can get on base any way possible that’s what we try to do as a team. The whole team really prides itself in holding our ground in the batter’s box. I think we’ve got (five) guys in double digits now.”
Gum leads the way with 23 beanings – five more than the prior record of 18 set by Justin Parks in 2009 – with four others on the team with at least 10 or more. The team’s other sadists include Chris Rasky (14), Dan DiBartolomeo (11) and Grant Buckner and Brady Wilson (10 each).
Being willing to step in front of a pitch has kind of become a badge of honor amongst the team.
“If somebody gets out of the way or moves their feet a little bit, we give each other a hard time about it,” Gum said. “Last I checked we were leading the conference in hit by pitch as a team. We have fun with it really.”
Gum, a left-handed hitter, wears a protective guard on his right elbow, which has helped deflect some of the direct blows to his body, but not all of them.
“I try to (stick his elbow pad out) but most of them end up missing the elbow guard and hitting me in the triceps,” Gum said. “That’s never good. I’ve taken a couple on my leg and my back, but mostly the elbow.”
Gum said the one that stung the most was the record-breaking 19th bean ball he took earlier this year against Cincinnati.
“That one caught me right, square on the outside of my calf and as soon as it hit me, my foot went numb,” he said. “I was like, man, I wish I would have moved.”
Surprisingly, Gum said none of the 23 beanings have occurred on the head.
“(Grant) Buckner has been hit in the head,” said an impressed Gum. “He held his ground on a curve ball. That was awesome.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to stick my head out there.”
Gum says the bean balls that really feel good are the ones taken when he is behind in the count.
“Especially with two strikes, when you’re down in the count and you get hit … those feel good,” he said.
The pitches that are seemingly a little tougher to take are the ones coming in at 95 mph, but Gum actually says when they come in that fast you really don’t have any time to react.
“It’s your initial reaction – 95 is coming in there pretty quick,” he said. “That is going to hurt a little bit.”
Gum says he has taken a peek at the NCAA stats from time to time to see where he stacks up against the rest of college baseball’s top sadists (he's sixth as of last week). No. 1 on the list is Campbell’s Jimmy “The Hitman” (I just made that nickname up on the fly) Brenneman. Crazy Jimmy has been plunked 30 times in 44 games so far.
“That’s just absurd,” said Gum, with a touch of amazement. “I’d like to know his tactics. I don’t know how you get hit that much? I haven’t really gotten out of the way, and I’ve leaned into a couple … he must really be on top of the plate.”
Thinking about it for a moment, Gum came up with another answer.
“It’s either courage or stupidity, one of the two,” he laughed.
Or maybe a little of both.Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik