If you were to judge Sports Illustrated's big Sportsman of the Year feature on Madison Bumgarner simply by the magazine's cover and Tom Verducci's lede—"In one of Earth's great hardwood forests, that wind swoops and soars through white pines, maples, oaks, chestnuts and poplars..."—you might roll your eyes and say something like, "Who the fuck do they think this guy is, Roy Hobbs?" Well keep reading, buddy, because Madison Bumgarner really is basically Roy Hobbs and Paul Bunyan mixed together.
For example, he once hacked a a live jackrabbit out of a rattlesnake and then raised it as his own:
Bumgarner and his wife were roping cattle when Madison was startled by a large snake he figured was a rattler. He quickly grabbed an ax and hacked it to pieces. When Ali, an expert field dresser, examined what was left of the snake, she found two baby jackrabbits inside pieces of it and extracted them. A short while later the Bumgarners noticed that one of the rabbits had moved slightly. It was alive. Ali brought the rabbit back to their apartment and for the next few days kept it warm and bottle-nursed it. The rabbit soon was healthy enough for them to release into the wild.
He was also a child poet, one who may or may not have been channeling the spirits of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren:
Bumgarner, 25, was four years old when he noticed the mountain wind.
"Look, Paw-Paw," he said to his maternal grandfather, Lewis Abernathy, "those leaves are afraid."
"Why do you say that, Maddy?"
"Because they're trying to run away from the wind."
Anecdotes from his coming-of-age years belong in some sort of Great American Novel:
He missed Lenoir so much that he would stand on the field during practice and look at the airplanes overhead, and if he noticed one from Southwest Airlines — the carrier he knew serviced the direct route from Phoenix to Raleigh — he imagined himself sitting in one of its seats, happy to be going home for good.
No, really, this guy came from someone's imagination:
Bumgarner would pass the downtime by walking from his room at a Days Inn to the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. But he didn't go inside. In a courtyard there was a statue of a bull. Bumgarner would bring a lasso and practice his roping against the inanimate animal, pretending he was home.
And then there's ...well ...there's this (emphasis mine):
It's all true. That he was so good so young that he started playing coach-pitch baseball at age four against seven-year-olds, and is so adept with either hand that he shoots a bow, bats, writes and ropes righthanded, but throws from the left side. That his father, Kevin, wouldn't let him throw a curveball until he had a driver's license. That before he dated Ali, he dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner ("No relation, I'm sure of it").
The entire profile is full of stuff like this, and you should read the whole thing immediately. I'm not saying there's an anecdote in there about the time Madison Bumgarner tunneled a hole through a dang mountain by throwing baseballs at it, but I'm not saying there isn't, either.