By Tommy Keeler Jr.
NEW MARKET -- When C.J. Rhodes was on the recruiting trail during his time as a volunteer assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University, he had a chance to see Brandon Gum play. So it's no surprise he was excited to get the opportunity to coach him this season with the New Market Rebels.
"I knew where he was ability-wise and the fact that this opportunity could help him really grow," Rhodes said of Gum.
Gum, a Woodbridge native, ended up signing with George Mason University, where he started 49 games this past season.
Former New Market Rebels manager Lucas Jones was one of Gum's assistant coaches at George Mason, and thought New Market would be a great place for Gum to play this summer.
"They thought it would be a good fit for me, especially after my freshman year, to get a lot of reps and get ready for next year," Gum said.
It's certainly paid off so far, for both Gum and the Rebels. The Rebels' shortstop is hitting .406 (26 for 64), which is second in the Valley League.
He has five doubles, has scored 10 runs and has nine RBIs.
Many players struggle early in the season with the switch to wooden bats, but Gum said since he's not a big power hitter the wooden bats don't really affect him like it might others. Gum said he's pleased with his start.
"It was a little surprising, it's more surprising now that I stayed at that mark," Gum said of his strong start to the season. "It's not like it was just for five games, or like a hot streak. Now I just want to continue it and to help the team."
Gum played for Woodbridge High School and was able to play in the Group AAA state championship games during his sophomore year -- 2010.
He said the memory of playing in the state final is something he still thinks about.
"It was kinda crazy going 27-0 and to make it to the state championship," Gum said. "It definitely stuck in my mind a lot about losing. We lost to probably one of the best pitchers I've ever faced in [Current Mississippi pitcher] Bobby Wahl. Knowing that is not that bad. We just played bad at the wrong time.
"It was a cool experience to get there. And something that I'll never forget, that's for sure."
After high school, Gum decided to play for the Patriots, which also kept him somewhat close to home.
Injuries helped Gum get into the lineup quickly in his freshman season, and he stayed there throughout much of the year. He hit .238 with 16 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
Gum said it was an adjustment playing at the Division I level, especially on the offensive side of things.
"From the offensive standpoint, you go from only seeing maybe one or two kids a year that are throwing 90 [in high school] to pretty much every kid throwing 90 [in college]," Gum said. "And the off-speed stuff is a lot better than what I'm used to."
Gum said his main goal is to improve his defense this summer while playing for the Rebels, and then go back and have a better season for the Patriots next year.
Gum said that like many, his ultimate goal is to play in the Major Leagues, and Rhodes said Gum has plenty of upside.
"He's somebody that I think as he continues to get stronger, fill out a little bit more, the speed's there, his arm strength's there," Rhodes said. "His hit-ability is there. The power side is something he can tap into, because I know it's there. All of those things are things that are important for him as he moves on. He's 19 years old. That's where it's like, 'OK, let's just continue to work at this the right way, and continue to build off of what's there and see where it takes you.'"
Gum is hoping that he can take the Rebels a long way this summer as well. He said he likes the team chemistry and thinks they have a lot of potential.
"As a team, we're very close here," Gum said. "We haven't had any problems yet. On the field we've done OK. We've had our bad games. We've had our really good games. I think we're going to be fine."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com