Cal Ripken was the only guy in town who had a better 1991 season than Bob Mumma.
Now a junior at UMBC, Mumma then was proclaimed the best catcher among the more than 60 Division I teams falling under the Eastern College Athletic Conference umbrella. Like Ripken, he had an MVP campaign, dominating the East Coast Conference with a .395 batting average, 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in just 50 games.
Mumma's credentials aren't dusty. When the Retrievers (16-3) tangle with ECC rival Towson State in a key three-game series this weekend, Mumma will bring with him a .448 batting average, six home runs and 21 RBIs.
His ideal scenario would be to knock off the defending champion Tigers in the ECC tournament in May, lead the Retrievers into their first-ever NCAA Division I tournament, and then get a serious offer from the June draft.
"I'm told that catchers and left-handers who throw hard are the quickest way to get to the majors," Mumma said. "If I get drafted high enough, say in the first 10 rounds, I would seriously consider signing. If it doesn't happen, I can always come back next year. I don't feel any pressure in that regard."
An economics major with a 3.5 grade-point average, Mumma is content on a college campus, in part because so few people paid him attention three years ago. When he was a senior at Rising Sun High in Cecil County, only two college programs showed serious interest, and Towson State had two catchers coming back.
"I told him he'd step in and play right away at UMBC," Tigers coach Mike Gottlieb said. "It's only the biggest mistake of my coaching career. Hitting-wise, he's the real thing. He needs to play at a higher level, because I don't think he's being challenged on this one."
Gottlieb, at least, gave Mumma a long look when he was in high school. Rising Sun, a Class 1A school, wasn't an athletic powerhouse in Mumma's days there, and his 10 varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball came on so-so teams that never won a postseason contest.
Mumma did play in the Crown All-Star game in 1989, but went 0-for-2 with two walks at Memorial Stadium, "not exactly the best game of my life." UMBC coach John Jancuska, working with a minimal budget at the time, was able to sneak in another #F prospect.
"I thank God every day we got him," Jancuska said.
Mumma wasn't Jancuska's only catch that year, as the junior class has four other three-year starters: second baseman Brian Loewe (Perry Hall), shortstop John Burns (Owings Mills), third baseman Andy Coleman, and leftfielder Greg Deares (Archbishop Curley).
Teams aren't able to pitch around Mumma. After leading the Retrievers in RBI the last two years, he's third this season behind Deares and sophomore first baseman Shawn Shugars. When pitchers have to deal with Mumma, they're challenging a 6-foot-1, 200-pound pull hitter who's learning to go to all fields.
"With the exception of one at Towson State, I think all of my career home runs [a school-record 35] have been to center and left," Mumma said. "I have hit more hard balls to right this season than I did the last two years combined."
Mumma, who turned 21 on March 16, has been a catcher since age 14, but he's always been a hitter. The only bad season with the bat he can recall was the summer of 1989, and a change in his contact lens prescription ended that travail. He doesn't envision any difficulty making the jump to pro ball and the accompanying switch from aluminum bats to wood.
"Every college player trying to get to the majors has to make that adjustment," Mumma said. "If you hit the sweet spot, regardless of whether it's metal or wood, the ball's going to go."
UMBC has five three-year starters who entered the college together in 1989. Here are their career statistics, through Tuesday:
PTC * John Burns, shortstop, .388 batting average, 81 RBIs, 37 doubles.
* Andy Coleman, third base, .339, 81 RBIs.
* Greg Deares, outfield, .369, 63 RBIs.
* Bob Mumma, catcher, .385, 120 RBIs, 35 HRs.
:. * Brian Loewe, second base, .312, 58 RBIs.