Ten years ago, Drew Cumberland was one of the rare San Diego Padres prospects people talked about having a serious upside. Only 21 and already in Double-A for the second half of the 2010 season, he seemed to be in line to be a big part of the long-promised Padres development strategy championed by President Sandy Alderson.
The Florida native opened the 2010 campaign in High-A Lake Elsinore, where he slashed .365/.400/567 in the first half. He earned a spot in what was then known as the XM All-Star Futures Game alongside Mike Trout and current Padre Eric Hosmer; the future seemed bright.
“All of us thought he was going to move up the ladder pretty quickly,” said Mike Maahs, the Fort Wayne TinCaps announcer who saw Cumberland play the season before when he was one of the leaders of their championship season.
“He was a really talented player, particularly athletically, but I remember the other things about him more. He had a little bit of spunk in him, played very hard and was really well-liked in the locker room.”
In 2007, in addition to their first-round pick Nick Schmidt, San Diego had five supplemental draft picks in addition to taking Cumberland that year, San Diego selected outfielders Kellen Kublacki and Danny Payne, along with catcher Mitch Canham and left-handed pitcher Cory Luebke. Luebke was the only one who ever saw the majors before injuries essentially ended his career in 2012.
But Cumberland was different, he was the one non-college player that was picked based on the talent the scouts saw within the athletic Floridian as opposed to numbers he put up in college.
Two weeks into his stint in San Antonio, Cumberland slammed his knee into the railing while chasing down a foul ball. Even that seemed like it would be a minor speedbump for a player apparently destined to play in the middle of the infield in San Diego and be the leadoff hitter of the future.
Instead, July 15, 2010, was his last time on the field as a professional.
“A lot of the injuries occurred because I played so hard. When I tore up my knee in San Antonio, I didn’t even really know how bad it was because I had hit my head on the metal railing,” Cumberland told us in 2011.
“In 2009 I had another one in Fort Wayne when I smacked my head on the ground going back for a pop-up.”
The left-handed-hitting shortstop came to spring training with a rehabbed knee in 2011 but soon began experiencing vision and balance problems. The problems were ultimately traced back to a severe eardrum injury during his freshman year of high school football.
The Padres and Cumberland tried several things, consulting with various doctors throughout the spring. By mid-summer, he was serving as a quasi-coach and looking at retirement. But that fall, a new medical lead gave him hope for a new start. He tried to play again in 2012, but the symptoms returned, and he had to come to the conclusion that his playing career was over at 23.
So what followed? We caught up with Cumberland this fall at The Clubhouse All Sports Training Facility, where he is an Owner and Vice-President.
“It was tough. It had been my dream since I was a little kid, but you know, I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason,” said Cumberland. “I’m really happy with where my life is, but like everyone, it took me a while to get there.”
Cumberland thought about staying with the Padres as a coach, but it never seemed to be the right fit. What did seem right was going back home.
“I tried to think about what I wanted to do, and where my heart was, and I was lucky I ran into Jason Kimbrell [the owner of the Clubhouse Facility]. We talked about building a type of place that could be so many things to our community here in Pace, [Florida].”
The Clubhouse is one of the premier sports training facilities for young athletes trying to take the next step in their athletic careers. But Cumberland is quick to emphasize that the facility is much more than people just trying to achieve their athletic dreams
It’s about the community.
“What we put together is somewhere kids have a place to go, be with their friends in a safe environment and where we try to help everyone, including ourselves, become the people all of us want to become.
“I did a lot of things in athletics, but what I am most proud of is that I always tried to be a good teammate. You aren’t always going to get the performance that you want on the field, but you can always be a good person and be there to help everyone else.
“We teach our kids to compete in just about any sport, but we work more on making sure everyone knows that to win, it takes more than just physical ability.”
One of the reasons Cumberland had so many stays on the disabled list was he played so hard; he was always bopping around the dugout before games. In fact, his manager in Fort Wayne, Doug Dascenzo laughingly said one of the reasons Drew was in the lineup so often was that he was too hyper to keep on the bench for an extended period of time.
“Oh yeah, I still get excited coaching the kids, but I always try to keep it really positive,” laughed Cumberland who runs a successful travel ball baseball organization, Panhandle Athletics. “It’s important for all the kids to have fun when you have fun you want to work harder to get better.
“If it’s not fun, they are going to stop playing.”
Once he came back to Pace after his professional baseball career ended, Drew met his wife Heather and now has a one-year-old daughter Adrienne.
“Sometimes when I watch the games, and I see someone I played against, I do think about what could have been. But I also think that right now life is pretty good.”