Cook calls catching first pitch thrown by an ailing kid from 1,500 miles away `coolest thing ever’

UPDATED from earlier edition

It was just about six weeks ago that Ryan Cook learned from a friend about a new entry in the field of technology-driven medicine, a telerobotic machine that can follow a user’s movement.

When he heard that there was a plan in a fledging state to have a patient throw out a first pitch remotely using the system, Cook went to the A’s to get in on the ground floor. And Wednesday night, 13-year-old Nick LeGrande threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the A’s-Yankees game from 1,800 miles away.

Cook caught the pitch, and said after the A’s 5-2 win over the Yankees “it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.’’

    “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been on the field,’’ Cook said, “or even in my whole life. Just the impact of what was going on for him and his family, I almost lost my idea of what to say.’’

LeGrande, suffering from a rare blood disorder known as severe aplastic anemia, will throw out the first pitch from Kansas City using a telerobotic pitching machine. It is believed to be a first for Major League Baseball.

And it fulfills a lifelong wish for LeGrande, who used to play Little League baseball but who can no longer, because of his illness, attend live games.

“First and foremost, this is about Nick,’’ Cook said Wednesday.  “It’s about making one of his dreams come true. We want to give him the experience of some live situations.’’

Tonight LeGrande and his family will be taken to a mini baseball stadium, specially constructed by Google at their Kansas City offices. It’s both near the LeGrande home and Children’s Mercy Hospital where he receives treatment.

“It’s got real grass and real dirt,’’ Cook, a bit of tech guy himself, said. “It’s got stands for his family and friends and coaches to sit. And it’s got a full wall projection system where they’ll get the feed from Oakland.’’

This is believed to be the first use of this technology on this scale. Cook caught a one-hop throw from a telerobotic pitching machine placed on the pitching mound. The machine followed LeGrande’s pitching motion, allowing him to both throw the pitch remotely and see the playing field at the Coliseum.

“I guess that pitch will be coming in at terminal velocity,’’ Cook said before the game, laughing.

Cook talked to the crowd, had them cheering for LaGrande. He asked that they get tested to see if they could be possible bone marrow donors for LeGrande and others who are suffering from the same malady.

“Somebody out there could be a possible bone marrow transplant donor for Nick or someone like him,’’ Cook said. “That would be great.’’

Cook said he’d have the entire team sign the ball and he’d try and give it to LeGrande when the A’s visit Kansas City in early July.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.