April 13, 2009

UCSB's Box of Chocolates

April 13, 2009

By John Zant, Santa Barbara Independent

Thanks to a movie character played by Tom Hanks, the name "Gump" has come to symbolize life in all its richness and wonderment -- well, like a box of chocolates. The amazing thing about Brian Gump, a real character, is that he has lived up to his name and delivered an assortment of sweet and nutty contributions to the student-athlete culture of UCSB.

You know that the senior outfielder from Westminster is about to step up to the plate at Gaucho baseball home games when James Brown's "Hot Pants" blares over the public address system. "It always puts me in a good state of mind. [Brown] has a lot of energy when he performs, and I want to bring energy to the team," said Gump, whose nickname, not surprisingly, is Hot Pants.

Gump's short-cropped hair is bright red, a characteristic that puts him in the company of only a few well-known ballplayers, including Mark McGwire, Ron Fairly, Red Schoendienst, and Rusty Staub (dubbed "Le Grand Orange" in Montreal).

His mode of transportation stands out in the parking lot: a yellow van with a Tower Records logo and red flames painted on it. "My older brother worked at Tower before they went out of business," Gump said. "He got the van for $100. I didn't have a car and when he offered it to me I said, `Heck ya.'" His teammates dubbed it "The Shaggin' Wagon," a designation more funny than true, Gump said.

Gump is co-chair of UCSB's Student Athlete Advisory Board, an organization that gives voice to his peers in the formation of athletic policies and projects. Under his leadership, the SAAB raised $2,000 for needy Isla Vista families last Christmas. "The baseball team donated the most money," he said. "I'm proud of that."

His most-watched athletic achievement occurred last fall during the Cal Poly-UCSB soccer game. Gump was on the Event Staff responsible for crowd control during the match, attended by more than 11,000 people. Two male streakers, wearing nothing but thongs, dashed across the playing field, and Gump instinctively took off after them. "Seeing as how I won't be playing in the NFL, how many times in life would I have the opportunity to tackle someone in front of 10,000 people?" he said. He got his shot when one of the streakers slipped. "It wasn't the best hit I'd ever delivered, but given the circumstances, it was respectable," he said. Gump received dozens of congratulatory text messages, but he expressed sympathy for the streaker: "I want him to know that I thought it was hilarious and I have a lot of respect for the courage and planning that went into it. I was just doing my job." The incident ranks up there with his game-winning grand slam homer against Cal Poly last season, Gump said. "It was pretty awesome; I wish we played in front of that many people at Caesar."

Caesar Uyesaka Stadium is UCSB's campus ballpark. Modest crowds turned out in gorgeous weather last weekend to watch the Gauchos take two out of three games from Pacific. Gump showed his competitiveness Saturday with one out in the third inning, UCSB trailing 1-0, and a teammate on third base. With two strikes on him, Gump fouled off three pitches before pounding a deep fly to right field that brought in the game-tying run. Eric Oliver followed with a home run to put the Gauchos ahead for good in a 9-6 victory.

Oliver, Ryan Cavan, Matt Valaika, Marty Mullins, and Gunnar Terhune are among the Gauchos contributing to a team batting average of .301. Gump, hitting .305, leads UCSB in runs scored (32) and stolen bases (12 in 15 attempts).

The Gauchos reached the midpoint of their season with a 17-9 record. "If we go 17-9 in the second half, it should put us into the postseason," head coach Bob Brontsema said. "But that's easier said than done. People don't realize how strong the Big West is. We're playing great teams every week" -- including Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, both ranked in the nation's top 10. UCSB will host four more weekend series: a nonconference stand against San Jose State (Apr. 17-19) and three-game sets against Big West rivals Cal Poly (Apr. 24-26), Long Beach State (May 8-10), and UC Irvine (May 22-24).