OAKLAND, Calif. – From some 1,800 miles away in Kansas City, Mo.,
13-year-old Nick LeGrande threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the
Yankees-Athletics game Wednesday night.
Into the glove of A’s reliever Ryan Cook, in Oakland. It was all made possible
by a telerobotic pitching machine, and is believed to be a baseball first when
it comes to ceremonial first pitches.
A first pitch from across the country _ a neat new concept, indeed.
LeGrande is an A’s fan with a rare blood disorder called severe aplastic
anemia, and the former Little Leaguer’s illness no longer allows him to attend
“That a boy, Nick, pretty good arm there, bud,” Cook said. “Congratulations,
bud, you’re in the big leagues.”
LeGrande and his family, including parents Mike and Shari, were taken to a mini
baseball stadium. It was constructed by Google at its Kansas City offices – a
location close to LeGrande’s home and Children’s Mercy Hospital, where he
receives treatment. Nick’s friends, doctors and former teammates were all set to
be in attendance.
At the same in the Bay Area, a telerobotic pitching machine was placed on the
pitcher’s mound at the Oakland Coliseum to follow the teen’s movements. The
technology allowed LeGrande to simultaneously throw the pitch and watch it
happen from afar.
“Unbelievable,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Hopefully it makes his day a
good day. We’re all for it. It should be interesting. … I’ve never seen it
before. I’m interested to see how it goes. It’s pretty cool in that it gets to
be done from somewhere else for someone who can’t be here and who apparently is
an A’s fan.”
In explaining the process, Google said that LeGrande would use an Android
application allowing him to control the movements of the robot in Oakland. That
robot was equipped with a camera, livestreaming a view of the ballpark to
LeGrande in Kansas City.
A video about LeGrande’s life was shown on the two main scoreboards before the
first pitch, which was then shown live from Kansas City on the two big screens.
This all came together in part through the efforts of Cook, whose girlfriend’s
sister works for an advertising agency connected with Google. Oakland officials
don’t know of any time this has been done before.
Cook caught the pitch after standing behind the plate to watch the video
tribute, and saying, “That’s some pretty powerful stuff.” He then introduced
“Nick, in his major league debut.” Cook encouraged everyone to consider
becoming bone marrow donors.
Fans cheered and jumped to their feet as the right-hander threw his pitch. Cook
then told the teen he would have a ball signed by all of the A’s to present to
LeGrande when the team travels to Kansas City from July 5-7.
“I thought it would be an amazing thing to be a part of, to make somebody’s
dream come true,” Cook said before the game. “And once it came to me, I
started at the bottom of the ladder here at the clubhouse and took it to the
Athletics and hoped they’d be supportive of it. We got nothing but support all
the way up, and from there it was pretty seamless and easy for me. I just sat
back and let it all transpire.”
There is even a Twitter hash tag of NicksFirstPitch. LeGrande’s special pitch
also will be chronicled on his Google Web site: http://fiber.google.com/about/nicksfirstpitch/.
A post from Wednesday read: “Meet 13-year-old baseball fanatic Nick LeGrande.
His big league dreams were put on hold when he was diagnosed with severe
aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder. Tonight, he’ll make his
triumphant return to the game.”
From everything Cook knew, LeGrande would be surprised by the gesture.
“He has no idea that this is happening, so about 6 o’clock tonight, I think,
he’s going to find out that he’s going to get to do it,” the pitcher said.
“His family’s kept it a secret from him the whole time. It’s really going to
make his day. I’m sure more than a day.”