| March 26, 2021
Over a year into his tenure as head coach of the Walnut Creek Crawdads, Brant Cummings awaits his first game in the dugout of the team’s home field at St. Mary’s College.
The wait for the Crawdads organization to return to play has been even longer — after not fielding a team in 2019 as part of a rebuild, college summer baseball has been missing from Walnut Creek for some time.
With nearly three years between seasons, Cummings and the Crawdads have had more than enough time to consider who they want their players to be not just on the field, but also as people. They plan to continue that focus as they head into their 2021 campaign, focusing on helping players become better people and preparing them for life after baseball.
Cummings’ baseball journey began like many others, with a set of baseball cards gifted to him by his mother. Baseball cards turned into televised baseball games, which turned into professional ball games across the Bay Area.
Cummings tried his hand at playing baseball as well, taking part in the game at the youth league, high school and community college levels. At Albany High School, he played under the tutelage of John Delts, whom he credits with the development of his coaching philosophy when he moved from the diamond to the dugout.
His coaching career began not long after he decided to stop playing, and he landed his first gig coaching age 16-18 and 13-15 teams in North Oakland. Gaining that experience led to stints with Bishop O’Dowd High School, Laney College, Sierra College and Diablo Valley College.
Cummings describes his years as an assistant coach at Laney under head coach Rob Wilson as one of the best baseball experiences he’s had throughout his career.
“I learned a lot from that guy on how to organize your day, how to communicate with the kids,” Cummings said. “One of the things he focused heavily on was the lecture aspect of the teaching process, how to explain these guys, this is why we do it, this is how we do it.”
Cummings got his first taste of summer ball when Wilson tasked him with finding summer placements for players on the team. When he was unable to find spots for a number of athletes, Cummings formed his own summer team of Laney players and found games for them throughout the summer season.
Though the Laney team played only seven games during its first summer stint, Cummings gradually found more games for them to play every year — graduating to 22, 40 and as many as 50 games.
Cummings and the players jokingly called the practice “barnstorming the Bay Area” because they would play “anyone and everyone” willing to face them in Northern California.
“It was a real joy to coach those kids and go out and go places, especially when we had the opportunity to play in places where there were crowds, where most of our kids, they weren't accustomed to that,” Cummings said.
After his years running summer ball at Laney, Cummings moved on to a new summer opportunity with the Folsom Pioneers. Cummings sought the advice of baseball minds around the Bay, including University of San Francisco assistant coach Troy Nakamura, to improve his summer recruiting skills. He was able to gradually shift his roster to include more Division I players, having as much as 75% of the roster from DI programs.
Cummings, who had more than made a name for himself in the San Francisco baseball community at that stage of his career, next took a position coaching the Neptune Beach Pearl. The Pearl’s rosters boasted future major league talent such as Kyle Barraclough and Ryan Cordell, both of whom he coached.
Just four seasons later, Cummings’ Pearl beat the Los Angeles Brewers to take home the 2015 CCL Championship.
“That weekend was some of the most unbelievable stuff, you couldn't write this for a script,” Cummings said. “You could get Scorsese, you couldn't get any of these wonderful writers to create some of the nonsense that occurred that weekend, that led to the championship, but that was a great experience, I think, for the kids, and they were able to dogpile it and regain and walk out of town with the trophy.”
After two more seasons, the Pearl chose to disband in 2017. Cummings subsequently took the 2018 season off and spent time away from the ballpark.
Cummings got a chance to return to coaching in 2019 when the Crawdads organization approached him about its desire to field a team again the following year. Walnut Creek hoped Cummings would accept the team’s head coaching position, but still had details to hammer out before it could announce an official return.
The primary issue stalling the Crawdads’ homecoming was lack of available field space in the baseball-saturated Bay Area. However, the Crawdads got a stroke of luck when St. Mary’s College head coach Greg Moore approached Cummings about getting a college ball team into SMC’s field for the summer, later allowing the University and team to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
As soon as the two came to a consensus in August 2019, Cummings got right to work assembling a 2020 roster.
Nevertheless, the team’s plans came to a screeching halt when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports industry. Although the Crawdads’ 2021 season was canceled for health and safety purposes, Cummings was still glad to be back among baseball peers.
“Leading up to the pandemic and all of those things, I thought it went well, I was able to tap into some of my resources again and put together what I hoped would be a competitive roster,” Cummings said. “And unfortunately we weren't able to play, but it felt good to be around the guys that I competed against on the field and worked with in the meetings and asked and so on, really enjoy the people that I haven't had an opportunity to work with in this league.”
Cummings’ patience and attitude toward the Crawdads’ unfortunate situation is just one example of the levelheadedness and dedication he’s developed a reputation for in the baseball industry.
“Some people refer to it as old school,” Cummings said. “I'm not quite necessarily sure what that means versus new school, but I set guidelines and I hold the kids accountable and I tell them as much as I can how much I care and love them, but also make sure that they stick to whatever the plans are for themselves and for the team, because they're going to be faced with guidelines and accountability for the rest of their lives.”
As a team-oriented leader, Cummings ensures that players remain accountable not only to themselves and their own improvement goals, but also the plans and aims of the team — “We'll make this useful for everyone, but let's make sure we stick to our plan,” Cummings said.
Cummings has also become known among college coaches for his willingness to help accomplish the goals of each coach for their players.
“So, we're here to facilitate whatever their needs, whether it's learning a new pitch, learning a new position,” Cummings said. “Put in specific situations, we try to do that as best we can for the needs of the coaches.”
“And that creates trust, and that's very, very important because at the end of the day, if they trust you, they'll do business with you. If they don't, they won't.”
Another quality Cummings and the entire Walnut Creek organization have made their name for is their commitment to the personal development of athletes away from the diamond.
One way the Crawdads have done so is to partner with More Than A Game, a nonprofit aimed at bringing baseball to communities across North and South America.
More Than A Game was created by Marshall Murray, one of the Crawdads’ founders, in 2010 after he spent years traveling to many different locations as part of Athletes in Action.
“They traveled to various locations around the world and were involved in communities in South America, and a couple other locations that he thought he would definitely like to create a team where they do something very similar, like go out, play baseball and do all those things to enhance their abilities as players, but along with that, the opportunity to see and visit other locations in the world, and to help people that are probably in a different situation than than they are,” Cummings said.
Sawyer Gieseke, a former Crawdads player, is one of many people involved with the nonprofit.
“What we do is we bring baseball to underprivileged communities all over the world, create scholarship opportunities for different countries that also provide more programs,” Gieseke said. “[Crawdads players] come out and they volunteer in the program.”
Players help lead clinics for young athletes looking to learn more about the sport, in addition to working on field construction projects and participating in other community events.
Athletes involved with the foundation value the opportunity to bring baseball to numerous people, spreading the joy of the game to those who have not previously had a chance to play the sport with adequate equipment, facilities and resources.
Whether through More Than A Game or the Crawdads team itself, Cummings hopes Crawdads athletes will take away more from their time in Walnut Creek than just new baseball skills.
“I love being on the field, and love helping young people become not just better players, but better human beings, and that's one of the driving forces for me is to help in my small way, tomorrow's leaders,” Cummings said. “These are tomorrow's police officers, physicians, insurance, sales, fathers, uncles, they are the people we see in the community.”
“They learn valuable life lessons. That's the number one for me, and if they get better as baseball players... that's great, but I want them to be [as] terrific human beings as possible.”
To learn more about More Than A Game and find out how you can contribute, please visit morethanagame.org
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