PEORIA, Ariz. -- One of the first players Padres outfielder Blake Tekotte saw Saturday was his old friend Drew Cumberland, who didn't play at all in 2011 because of a rare neurological condition that actually caused him to retire.
Tekotte saw something else he hadn't seen from his friend and former teammate -- a wide smile on his face.
"It's awesome. He's such a talented guy and has so much to offer this game. It was heartbreaking when they figured out he wasn't able to play," Tekotte said. "But now you can see it in his face that he's so excited to be here.
"He knows what it feels like to have this taken away. A lot of us maybe take that for granted. His career flashed before his eyes. I don't think he'll take anything for granted."
Having played shortstop and second in the Minors, Cumberland, 23, was regarded by Baseball America as the Padres ninth-best prospect a year ago at this time. It was in Spring Training where the recurring problems he had in the past with dizziness and also migraine headaches caught up to him.
Cumberland saw a series of specialists across the country last season hoping to find a reason why he had so many issues. Finally, he was diagnosed last summer with bilateral vestibulopathy, which means the portions of both inner ears that control balance are damaged.
The condition, coupled with a history of concussions as an amateur then as a professional, explained why he had debilitating migraine headaches as well as vision and balance problems his entire life.
Cumberland effectively retired on June 24 and later joined the coaching staff at Class A Fort Wayne -- reluctant to believe that his promising career was over.
He didn't stay retired long, though.
In early November, Cumberland was referred to the Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles, where he underwent a round of testing. He got the good news a few days later that he could resume playing, though he will now wear a protective mouth guard to guard against future concussions.
Cumberland has been cleared by the Padres and was on the field Saturday for the first day of the team's minicamp for Minor League players.
"I couldn't be more excited. Especially when I got the news in November it's a second chance. Not too many people get a second chance at something they love to do. I feel like I'm going to take it and run with and hope for the best and work hard every day."
There's no way to know how Cumberland will react, say, when he first dives for a ball. He's not going into this comeback of sorts tentatively. Instead he'll jump right in and attack the game like he always has since the Padres selected him with the 46th overall pick in the 2007 Draft.
"I'm not going to say there is not a fear there for diving. But I'm not going to play like that. I've always played the game pretty hard," Cumberland said. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I'd kick myself in the butt if I didn't come out here and try it. I'm not expecting it to happen."
So what to expect from Cumberland, who was a .316 career hitter as a shortstop his first four seasons in the Padres system with a .380 on-base percentage? He's not entirely sure, though he doesn't think it will take long for him to catch up after a year away.
"I feel like my abilities are still there. I was working out this whole offseason. I still feel great running. I don't feel like I've lost any speed," he said. "I just need to get my feet wet seeing live pitching. Stand in and track some balls. That's one of the reasons they brought me to minicamp.
"I'm starting over in a sense of missing a year-and-a-half. But I really don't feel like I'm starting over. All the guys welcomed me."