Few people receive a Division I basketball scholarship. Even fewer get drafted by a Major League Baseball team.
AU senior Stephen Lumpkins achieved both.
After his junior season at AU, the Kansas City Royals drafted the 6-foot-8 lefty pitcher in the 13th round. It was an opportunity Lumpkins couldn’t pass up.
“I was always good at baseball,” Lumpkins said. “And I think if it was something that if I didn’t do it I would have always regretted it. Because not many people get a chance to try and pitch with a professional organization like that, so I think it was something that I had to try.”
Lumpkins traveled to the Royals Spring Training Headquarters in Surprise, Ariz. to play at the rookie level in the Arizona League. He lived in a hotel with his days saturated with baseball. The rookie’s schedule consisted of baseball from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.
One aspect Minor League baseball offered outside of the rigorous schedule was an individual aspect in a team sport. Lumpkins had to make the adjustment from focusing on the success of the team, like he did in basketball, to focusing on the success of himself.
“Baseball is a lot more individual,” Lumpkins said. “Especially in minor league baseball. It’s a lot more individual because wins and losses, especially at the lower levels, people aren’t really so concerned about that. It’s more how you do by yourself. If you had a good game, that’s all that really mattered.”
Through 15 career games, Lumpkins wasn’t seeing the individual success. Lumpkins went 2-1, pitched 37 innings, struck out 28 and had a 8.27 earned run average. Despite the disappointing stat line, the AU senior viewed his struggles in a positive light.
“Experiencing failure in athletics for the first time in my life, I think, helped me mature a lot,” Lumpkins said. “Dealing with that helped me appreciate being a college basketball player again. Something over the years you start to take for granted. I started to appreciate it a lot more. Especially this being my last year.”
With a greater appreciation for basketball and a waiver from the Patriot League, Lumpkins returned to AU basketball. However, he still needed to convince Head Coach Jeff Jones that he wanted to play.
“He convinced me that he was going to be all in,” Jones said. “That’s really what I needed to hear.”
Despite being out for a year, Lumpkins has made his presence felt. He’s started all 27 games and is averaging close to 15 points and 10 rebounds, both career highs. He’s also shooting almost 50 percent.
A large part for Lumpkins’ success on the court is his competitiveness. An attribute his coach has seen grow since coming back.
“He’s been much more competitive,” Jones said. “He’s definitely more competitive now. More focused now, than he was during his first three years at AU.”