OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — In what is believed to be a baseball first when it comes to ceremonial first pitches, 13-year-old Nick LeGrande was scheduled to take the toss before the Yankees-Athletics game on Wednesday night from his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., by using a telerobotic pitching machine.
A first pitch from 1,800 miles away — 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.
LeGrande and his family, including parents Mike and Shari, were to be taken to a mini baseball stadium. It has been 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 are expected to be in attendance.
At the same time across the country, a telerobotic pitching machine was to be placed on the pitcher's mound at the Oakland Coliseum to follow the teen's movements. The technology allows 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 will use an Android application allowing him to control the movements of the robot in Oakland. That robot will be equipped with a camera, which will livestream a view of the ballpark to LeGrande in Kansas City.
This all came together in part through the efforts of reliever Ryan 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 will catch the first pitch in Oakland.
"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."