Jolene Cumpton was supposed to surprise her son last Saturday.
She was going to make a four-hour drive from Augusta, Ga., to Durham, N.C., to watch him pitch in a Triple-A baseball game between Indianapolis and Durham.
Turns out, the surprise was on her.
Last Thursday, Brandon Cumpton called his mother and father — area natives Ron and Jolene Cumpton — with some exciting news.
He was going to The Show.
It was about midnight in Augusta, Ga., and Jolene and Ron were already in bed when the phone rang. A little sleepy from the late call, Ron answered. He didn’t give away the big news, saying only “That’s cool, that’s cool,” and instead handed the phone to his wife.
Brandon: “You weren’t coming to Durham were you?”
Jolene: “Well, uh, why?”
Brandon: “That’s OK, I’m not going to be there.”
Jolene: “You’re not? Where are you going to be?”
Jolene: “What are you going to Pittsburgh for?”
Brandon: “I’m going to be pitching.”
Jolene: “For the Pirates? Against who? Oh my gosh!”
And from there, one of the greatest weekends in the lives of Ron and Jolene Cumpton began. They both grew up here — Ron a 1978 graduate of Raceland High School and Jolene a 1980 graduate of Russell High School.
They immediately began making transportation plans to Pittsburgh for Ron, Jolene and Brandon’s younger brother, Jordan, who is 17.
“Friday was a whirlwind,” said Jolene. “We had to get the flight out of Augusta and a flight back here in time for Ron’s work on Sunday. It was a crazy weekend.”
But a great one.
Everybody was naturally nervous before the game with the Dodgers and Jolene said she and her husband were saying “If he can only get through the first inning, he’ll be all right.”
Cumpton struck out the side in the first, struck out two more in the second and pitched three no-hit innings.
“Brandon is not a big strikeout pitcher,” his mother said. “He’s a groundball pitcher. When he struck out the side, we were just looking at each other. When he struck out two in the second inning, my husband lost it emotionally. Even his agent was like, ‘I was holding my breath.’”
Ron, a multiple sport athlete at Raceland, remembered it this way: “I couldn’t do nothing but put my head in my hands and cry.”
But the Dodgers began to figure him out the second time through their lineup and roughed him up for two runs the third time through in the sixth to take a 3-1 lead. Manager Clint Hurdle got him out after five-plus innings and called his work “a really professional job.”
Cumpton grew up in Augusta and played college baseball for Georgia Tech before being drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 Amateur Draft by the Pirates. He moved up the ladder quickly and was pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis. He had a 4-5 record with a 3.84 ERA. But his last two starts were strong and Hurdle plucked him out of the minors.
“It was an awesome experience, something I’ll never forget,” Jolene said. “We don’t know what the future holds but this was something else.”
Brandon told his father how the coaches broke the news to him.
He had been charting pitches in street clothes at that night’s game — after having pitched the previous night — and the coaches called him into the office.
“He thought he was in trouble,” his dad said.
During the game, some girls in the stands were flirting with him as he was charting. The coaches told him that wasn’t a good thing to be doing and that a Double-A pitcher was coming up to replace him.
“Brandon was scared to death,” his father said. “Then they told him the guy was replacing him on the roster because he was going to Pittsburgh.”
Cumpton replaced A.J Burnett, who went on the disabled list. Cumpton is the 11th pitcher the Pirates have used this season because of injuries. But the young right-hander impressed enough to get at least one more start on Thursday afternoon against the Cincinnati Reds.
His grandmother, Norma Cumpton, who lives in Raceland, will get to see him pitch at Great American Ball Park.
“She’s seen him pitch in Little League, high school and college,” said Jolene. “When I called Norma, she cried, too. I told her she needed to go to Cincinnati. It might be the only opportunity.”
Meanwhile, mom and dad will be in Augusta watching on the MLB station.
Brandon is no stranger to success. He played on two state championship baseball teams at Greenbriar High School, including one that went 35-1 and one that lost the first four games and then didn’t lose another one.
Jolene said several family members still live in the area. Her two sisters, Stephanie Broughman and Jennifer Vallance, live in Ashland. Her husband’s aunt Evelyn, Norma’s sister, is also there. She will be accompanying Norma to Cincinnati. Evelyn is 87 and Norma 84.
“They didn’t promise him anything,” Jolene said. “It was a spot start. (But) They flelt like he’d earned another start.”
Cumpton was matched against Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kerhsaw, the 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner, and he pitched with him for five innings and gave the Pirates a chance to win, which is exactly what he was asked to do.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.
Jolene Cumpton was supposed to surprise her son last Saturday.
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