The San Francisco Giants just threw a 10-year reunion party. Only instead of hordes of former ballplayers and coaches reminiscing in an elaborately decorated banquet hall, this event hosted one guest: Nate Bump.
The 25th overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft, Bump is once again playing for the organization that rated him so highly a decade ago.
The progression, though, hasn't been as smooth as a freshly mown outfield.
Bump spent three seasons in the Major Leagues with the Florida Marlins after the Giants traded him and reliever Jason Grilli for Livan Hernandez in 1999. In June of his most recent big-league season (2005), Bump developed serious inflammation in his right shoulder and was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. The next year, with Triple-A Albuquerque, he pitched in six games before succumbing to the discomfort.
Then the detachment began.
The Towanda, Pa., native stopped rehabilitating in the spring of 2007 because things weren't going according to plan. Frustration mounted, and Bump needed a break.
"I couldn't even watch baseball. It wasn't fun for me," Bump said. "I didn't enjoy the game that much at the time.
"I guess a lot of guys are this way. You get caught up in the everyday grind and you forget that it's still a game, and it's supposed to be fun. I was hurt for a couple years, so going through the rehab wasn't much fun, and I wasn't having a good time going to the ballpark."
However, as almost anybody who's coached, played or even watched baseball will tell you, it's nearly impossible to abandon the game completely.
"September rolled around and teams were getting into the Wild Card race," Bump said. "I was starting to watch the playoffs in October and all of a sudden I was sitting there gritting my teeth as a pitcher would throw a pitch."
While the desire was there, an interest in the postseason and an abbreviated big-league résumé aren't enough to magically reclaim a Minor League contract. Bump needed to rediscover his claim-to-fame sinker, rework his mechanics and remember what his baseball withdrawal taught him.
It was Bump's wife, Cheryl, who met Mike Keady, a pitching instructor at the Diamond Dreams scouting and recruiting program in Palm Beach, Fla., toward the end of October. From there, Keady provided the 31-year old with the extra injection of energy and confidence he needed.
"He helped me with my mechanics and got me fixed out there on the mound," Bump said. "I gave it a go, and things started to feel good. He's a real quality guy, and was the guy that really believed in me and took that extra step with me."
Now playing for the Giants' Double-A affiliate, the Connecticut Defenders, Bump is continually refining the abilities he lost while sitting out.
"Taking a year off has given me a different perspective on being away from the game, and shown me how much I enjoyed it," Bump said.
Wednesday night's outing was not only a fantastic start to improving his enjoyment of the game, but also a step in the right direction on the path back to the Majors. Bump tossed five hitless innings, striking out two and walking two. He's 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA, six strikeouts and three walks in three outings.
"I've made a few minor adjustments with my arm slot trying to get my sinker back and [Wednesday] it was a lot more consistent," he said. "You work on your number one pitch, and the sinker is probably the only reason why I got to the big leagues in the first place, so obviously it's key for me to keep that."
Part of the newfound satisfaction for Bump is playing for his original team. Bump had maintained numerous contacts within the Giants' front office, such as Director of Player Personnel Jack Hiatt and Vice President of Player Personnel Dick Tidrow.
"It means a lot," Bump said of signing a second time with the Giants. "I have good memories from San Francisco, and they've always been nice to me.
"Anytime somebody is willing to give you a second opportunity after trading you away, I think that says something. They've certainly allowed me to have the time to try to build up my arm strength, and have given me every possible chance to do well."
As would be the case with any Minor Leaguer, but particularly with someone making a fresh run at it 10 years after being drafted, Bump's ambitions won't be fulfilled until he returns to the Majors. Quite possibly with the club that wanted him there all along.
"I'm not playing to have any kind of career Minor League stats," Bump said. "I want to be back in the big leagues. If for some reason my arm shows me that I can't make it, and I know that I can't make it, I'll quit. But for now, I think I have a chance to make it back."