Cook Makes Strong Professional Debut in Pecos League
Contact: Matthew Hart
UPDATE (6/15): Cook was a whole new kind of lights-out in his second professional start, delivering another quality outing before Alpine's home game against the Taos Blizzard was suspended due to a stadium lighting failure. The Cowboys led 7-2 in the seventh inning. For more, check out the team's game recap and photo gallery (courtesy of Stephanie Ballard).
It was still 60 feet, six inches from the pitching rubber to home plate. And Cook could still bring it.
Less than three weeks after his collegiate career ended two wins shy of a trip to the NCAA Division III World Series, Cook debuted for the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys of the Independent Pecos League on Thursday and tossed six strong innings against the host White Sands Pupfish. Scattering five hits and two runs, the righty earned a no-decision before the Cowboys broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth en route to a 6-3 win.
The road to Alomogordo was a whirlwind one for Cook, who graduated with Amherst’s Class of 2013 last Sunday. Soon after, Lord Jeff hitting coach Mike Armstrong utilized a connection with Alpine to plant an inquiry on Cook's behalf. As it turned out, the Cowboys needed a pitcher and liked the Amherst star’s resume.
And so on Monday, Cook left Amherst, drove home to Chicago, then hung a hard left south and west. He arrived in New Mexico on Wednesday in time for the start of Alpine’s three-game series with White Sands. On Thursday, he replaced Amherst purple with Cowboy red and became the fourth Lord Jeff in the last three years to enter the professional ranks.
“We work really hard to give players the opportunity to play professionally after they graduate,” said head coach Brian Hamm. “Bob earned this by working really, really hard and pitching so well down the stretch for us.”
Cook begins his professional career with Alpine, the defending league champion club based out of a West Texas town of under 7,000 people located 150 miles southwest of Odessa. The former Jeff is currently under a two-week trail period, but if he continues to pitch as he did on Thursday, the Cowboys will want to keep him around longer than that.
A day after Alpine won a 15-9 slugfest typical of the high-altitude league, Cook ensured that Thursday would be a lower-scoring affair. After giving up a leadoff double, the righty settled down, escaping the first inning unharmed before a one-two-three second. The Pupfish touched Cook for a run in third on a sacrifice fly, but he responded with a perfect fourth before leaving the bases loaded in the fifth.
After Cook got two quick outs in the sixth, a single, stolen base, and single allowed White Sands to tie the game, 2-2, but Cook limited the damage, inducing a groundout to end his night at 96 pitches (50 strikes). Both teams scored in the seventh, but Alpine pushed the decisive three runs across in the top of the ninth to improve to 13-10 on the year.
With the Pecos League following National League rules, Cook will also get a chance to turn heads at the plate with Alpine. Swinging a wooden bat for the first time in 2013, he went 1-for-3 Thursday with a fourth-inning single out of the ninth spot in the order.
A new kind of bat won’t be the only adjustment Cook has to make as he enters one of professional baseball’s most unique leagues. Operating out of cities in the high desert and mountain regions of New Mexico, West Texas, and Southern Colorado, the Pecos League specializes in offense, with an average stadium elevation of 4,870 feet above sea level.
Combine the thin air with smaller-than-average ballparks and Cook will have his hands full hoping to produce the kind of pitching numbers that earned him a chance to play pro ball. The Winnetka, Ill. native ranked second in Division III with a 0.95 earned run average (ERA) during the 2013 season while tying for first in walks-plus-hits per inning pitched (WHIP) at 0.77.
In addition to being named NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and first team All-Region, Cook was also an Academic All-America selection. With 147 Pecos League players earning promotion to higher independent and Major League affiliated teams over the last four years, a chance to continue his pro career awaits the former mathematics major if he can solve the puzzle of high-altitude pitching.
After all, it’s still only 60 feet, six inches from the mound to the plate.