Robotic First Pitch at A's Game

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

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 games.

"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."


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