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Cumberland Gets a Clean Bill of Health
12/09/2011 10:06 AM ET
Drew Cumberland was recruited by Florida State in football as a defensive back. He suffered a severe concussion in a high school freshman football game which led to a severely damaged eardrum that was never really given a chance to heal. This injury, coupled with several concussions, led to balance and vision problems which eventually came to a head during the 2011 spring training.

After seeing several different doctors he was finally coming to terms that his health was more important than his playing career and was starting to coach in the system until some new medical developments enabled him to continue his career.

When I last talked to you in Fort Wayne in September you held out slight hope that you might be able to play someday but thought you were done playing after speaking to so many doctors. What happened?

Drew Cumberland: That is true. I remember telling you that I was going to see a doctor in Los Angeles that my doctors in San Diego had set me up with. These guys worked with athletes that had concussions.

I had my appointment in early November and it was a really intensive day of testing from nine in the morning to five at night. It was all mental testing having to do with the brain; putting shapes together on a computer, doing math problems, reading paragraphs and recalling the content.

At the end I wanted to know what this approach could do for me; an approach which focused on the symptoms brought on by my concussions as opposed to the inner-ear problems. They let me know that they wanted to look at the tests and analyze them, then they would give me a call back. I let them know that I would rather get the news in person and have everything explained to me than over the phone. They said sure, no problem.

So for about two and half weeks I was on pins and needles. I wasn't sure what was going to happen but I kept working out as much as I could so I wouldn't keep thinking about it all the time. Finally I flew out to Los Angeles and had my appointment.

Dr. Strickland had the results and let me know that the first thing that really jumped out at him was that my memory was fine, much better than most of the people that they test. Everything was outstanding and he gave me some other things that I could do. This went on for about an hour and then he asked me if I had any questions.

And the first thing I said was, "Can I play?"

And he said, "I can't see why not".

They said that taking a full year off was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because it just gave my body a chance to rest without me diving or running into anything. They asked me when was the last time I had taken six months off and I think it was when I was thirteen.

They then gave me a computer program called "Lumosity" to work on and it has really helped me. I work on it about an hour a day and then do my eye exercises. The doctors in San Diego thought the whole inner ear thing could be managed; it was the concussions that were the problem.

Every morning I get up, eat breakfast and then start knocking out my workouts. Both for my brain and my body.

You saw quite a few doctors. Why did it take so long to get the right diagnosis?

Drew Cumberland: Everyone was really doing the best they could and much of what happened to me, injuries to the brain, the research is very new and everyone is really cautious. Every doctor was different but most of them kept pointing me in different directions so we could eventually get an answer.

The doctors from San Diego were just unbelievable. They were the ones who got me to go to the guys in Los Angeles and were able to figure out it was more a problem of concussion-related injuries than what was originally thought.

How much of the migraines and balance problems could have led to your injury problems in the past?

Drew Cumberland: 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. In 2009 I had another one in Fort Wayne when I smacked my head on the ground going back for a pop-up.

The Padres have talked to me a number of times about it. They love the way I play but at the same time they also have an investment. At the same time, I'm not going to dog it because it's a hard thing to turn on and off. A few things I can do is try to check out the surroundings of unfamiliar parks and use the concussion mouth guard which can lessen the impact when something does happen.

Corey Brock of wrote a very good story on you for the Padres website and talked about some of the things you were going to do with a new regimen. Could you go into that a little for us?

Drew Cumberland: In addition to the mouth guard, I have to take a some Omega 3 supplements, which is like fish oil. I'm also on a pretty strict diet with no caffeine. I am really trying to drink a lot of water because being hydrated is a big part of the health plan.

You were doing baseball workouts in September, how much more work have you put in since then?

Drew Cumberland: During my entire time in Fort Wayne last season, I might have thrown batting practice twice. Mainly I would get out in the field and do infield stuff with the guys. I let them know, and most of them are around the same age I am, that I wasn't really here to tell them what to do but to try to help them get better.

The biggest thing that I tried to teach them was to slow the game down. You don't have to go a hundred miles an hour to be quick. Smooth is quick. I took grounders everyday and then Shawn [Wooten, the manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps] asked me if I wanted to take batting practice one day and from then on I started to do it.

How about at Instructs?

Drew Cumberland: At Instructs I really wasn't doing that much physically. I was mainly just there soaking up knowledge. I would be out there early every morning with [Gary Jones, the Padres' infield instructor] and then go to the cage with Sean Barry [The Padres organizational hitting coordinator] and listen to what he was trying to say.

I wasn't really sure what was going to happen at that time so if I was going to become a full-time coach, I wanted to learn how to do it right.

I also worked with Phil Plantier in the batting cage. He wanted me to come in for two reasons: if I was going to be a coach, I needed to learn what I was getting into and this was a head start. But he also told me that he really hoped that I would come back and play so that this would help me out.

What have the Padres told you since you heard the news? Any idea of where you will go?

Drew Cumberland: Randy Smith was the first guy I called because he has really helped me out through all of this. When I first heard that I couldn't play, he was the one that wanted me to stay around the game by being a coach.

He was really excited when I told him the news and right now they really haven't told me anything. I know I have a long way to go after being out for so long but I'm going to come in to spring training in the best shape I have ever been in. I'm running pass routes and lifting weights everyday. I can't wait.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.