OAKLAND (CBS/AP/BCN) – From some 1,800 miles away in Kansas City, Missouri, 13-year-old Nick LeGrande threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Yankees-Oakland Athletics game Wednesday night into the glove of A’s reliever Ryan Cook.
It was all made possible by a telerobotic pitching machine from Google, 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 games.
The A’s heard about LeGrande’s condition and partnered with Google to allow him to throw out the first pitch.
“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 in attendance.
“I thought I was coming for my grandma’s birthday…it was a total surprise,” Nick told KPIX 5.
At the same in Oakland, a telerobotic pitching machine was placed on the pitcher’s mound at the O.co Coliseum to follow the teen’s movements via the Internet. 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’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 used an Android application allowing him to control the movements of the robot in Oakland. That robot was equipped with a camera, live-streaming 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 A’s 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 was 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 was surprised by the gesture.
“He had no idea that this was (going to be) happening,” the pitcher said. “His family’s kept it a secret from him” up until the last possible moment.
(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)