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Eric Sondheimer

Cook takes inspiration from his older brother

March 09, 2007|Eric Sondheimer

Whenever Cole Cook of Palisades starts tiring from doing push-ups or detects frustration building while pitching, he allows lessons learned from his brother, Niles, to take over his mind and body.

Cook stops complaining and starts fighting back.

He remembers that if Niles could endure chemotherapy and radiation treatments, plus a lumbar puncture, while being poked and prodded in a hospital intensive care unit because of leukemia, then he can put up with a little adversity on a baseball diamond.

So each time Cook steps onto the field, he seizes the moment, wearing his brother's No. 17, and dedicating himself to making Niles, 21, proud.

"When he couldn't play, I realized even when practice was hard, it was nothing compared to being in the ICU," Cook said.

At 6 feet 6 and 200 pounds, with a 91 mph fastball and a scholarship at Pepperdine, Cook begins his senior season with the potential of being the No. 1 pitcher in the City Section.

Whether that comes to fruition will depend on Cook's ability to throw strikes. He was nicknamed "Wild Thing" early in his high school career because he threw hard but didn't know where the ball was headed.

He has had performances during which his strikeouts reached double figures while his walks were six, seven or eight. He struck out 91 and walked 40 in 60 1/3 innings last season.

In his season opener last Friday, Cook struck out 10, walked three but was hurt by defensive breakdowns in a 6-3 defeat to Reseda Cleveland.

He has gained better command of his pitches, putting him in position to pitch against the best.

"I think you're going to see Cole dominate the league and dominate the City Section," Coach Tom Seyler said.

Lurking in the background are the health issues involving Niles, who was co-captain and center fielder on Palisades' 2003 City Invitational championship team. On Dec. 26 of that year, Niles found out he had leukemia, leading to three years of treatment.

"It was pretty traumatic, and all of us grew up real fast," Cook said.

Fortunately, Niles has been in remission and is taking classes at Whittier College, where he is a psychology major. His experience of taking on a serious illness had a profound effect on his "little bigger" brother.

It left Cook appreciating baseball and life even more.

"I remember before we knew he actually had cancer and he was very sick, my mom told him he probably wouldn't be able to play baseball, and Niles was in tears," Cook said.

"Then the diagnosis came and baseball was out of the question. Niles was my inspiration to play."

Baseball has been part of the family's makeup for years. Cook's father, Peter, played sports in high school and has served as a coach for his sons. He's also a longtime actor.

Cook's improvement has come from figuring out how to control his pitches.

"I would like to think I've really calmed it down and will have a lot of one-, two-, three-walk games," he said.

He looks forward to the challenge of a possible meeting with City title favorite Chatsworth in the final, though Palisades is off to an 0-3 start.

"Obviously, I'd love it at Dodger Stadium, us against them and see who wins," he said. "I've heard so much about them since I was in ninth grade when they had their season without a loss. I've always wanted a shot."

And Niles intends to be around, attending as many Palisades games as possible, keeping his brother focused and motivated.

"He understands both life and playing athletics is so fleeting," Niles said. "It can be taken away so quickly."

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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