OMAHA – Ruth Ann Bluma, mother of Wichita State pitcher Jaime Bluma, must be a nervous wreck.
No, she’s not scared that her son, a Shocker freshman reliever, will give up a home run in the ninth inning.
“She’s worried I’ll eat a bug or something,” Jaime said. “And that they’ll show it on television.”
So far, viewers have been spared that spectacle. But the Shockers have at least two more games to play, including tonight’s rematch with Creighton.
Bluma hasn’t eaten a bug, nor given up a run in four postseason appearances. During the College World Series, Bluma saved WSU’s first-round victory over Long Beach State and was the winner as the Shockers nipped Creighton 3-2 in 12 innings Monday.
Bluma, whose brother Jeff was quiet and low-key during his four seasons as a Shocker from 1987 to 1990, is earning a reputation as a talented but slightly off-center right-hander.
“Last fall, he was kind of quiet,” said bullpen mate Brian Buzard. “We told him stories about past Shocker players and how crazy they were. Now he might be crazier than any of them.”
Bluma proved he’s nuts about a month ago, when the Shockers were on their way home after a couple of losses at Arkansas.
The players were a little down as they rolled into a McDonald’s restaurant for dinner. One of them told Bluma he would give him a dollar if he ate one of the bugs off the grill of the team’s bus.
Soon, the take was up to $20.
The story, verified by many of the Shockers, is that Bluma licked one of the many bugs off the front of the bus, chewed it a few times, then spit it out.
“That kind of got everybody’s spirits back up,” Buzard said.
Bluma says he hasn’t eaten any bugs since, but he did have a pet frog in the bullpen during the NCAA Midwest Regional in Wichita last week. And he has started a collection of rubber animals; he has a snake, a frog, a bug, a rat and a chicken.
You know Bluma is different just watching him warm up in the bullpen. He wears his hat backward, one of his rubber frogs dangling from the top. His pant strings hang out over his pants.
“Once I’m in a game, though, it’s all business,” said Bluma, who turns his hat around, puts away the frog and ties his pants before he comes into a game. “The first six or seven innings, I like to try and keep everybody loose.”
There are stories that Bluma eats creatures regularly, which he flatly denies. Some of the Shockers say Bluma has eaten some unusual non-living things, but that it wouldn’t be tasteful to repeat those stories.
“Bluma’s got the sickness that we like for our bullpen people,” said Shocker pitching coach Brent Kemnitz. “The best stories about him, you really can’t print. Now if you were writing for the National Enquirer, you could print that stuff. Basically, he’s got the kind of sick demeanor that I’m proud of teaching.”
Bluma was in the middle of most of the media attention at WSU’s Wednesday workout. Lou Pavlovich of Collegiate Baseball magazine brought him a frog because the one Bluma had in Wichita got away.
Bluma immediately took the frog to the bullpen and showed if off to his teammates.
“I really haven’t had that many pets,” Bluma said. “Just one dog. And a gerbil, but I ate it.”
That’s a joke. A sick joke, but a joke.
All joking ends when Bluma pitches. He’s a power pitcher, with a fastball and a hard slider. He has a 3-2 record, seven saves and 1.67 ERA, best on the staff, in 26 games.
And he has struck out 51 in 37 2/3 innings, probably his most impressive statistic.
“Short relief is the perfect role for me,” said Bluma, a starter during his high school career at Owasso High in Owasso, Okla. “My high school coach said he always envisioned me being a short reliever in college.”
Bluma hasn’t been any better than he was Monday against Creighton.
He struck out the side, the top of the Creighton batting order, in the 10th. In the 11th, after Chad McConnell reached second on a one-out error, Bluma struck out Mike McCafferty and Ryan Martindale.
“Pitching here is a dream come true,” Bluma said. “I was around the team in ’89 with my brother, and I dreamed about playing here.”
Bluma has been a perfect fit, just the kind of pitcher Kemnitz was looking for in the bullpen.
“He’s got confidence, sickness, the whole thing,” Kemnitz said. “And believe it or not, he’s a very good student. You look at him sitting over there with sunglasses, a bug in his hat and his hat on backwards, you might not believe that.”