CHATHAM ─ When former Major League baseball pitcher Dennis Cook learned that friend and former colleague Tom Holliday had been named head coach of the Chatham Anglers, he dialed him up to offer congratulations. Little did he know that call would lead to Cook also joining those coaching the 2018 team.
“I worked with coach Holliday at UT (University of Texas) in 2003,” said Cook during a Jan. 2 phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. “I saw that he'd gotten the head coaching job and called to congratulate him. He had a position open and it sounded like something that would be fun and that I would enjoy doing.”
Beginning in June of this year Cook will offer his insights and instruction as the team's pitching coach, no doubt drawing on his many years of experience. From 1988 to 2002 Cook played in the Bigs, lending his skills to the San Francisco Giants, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox, the Texas Rangers, the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets, and the Anaheim Angels, playing with the Marlins the year they won the World Series, serving as the team's winning relief pitcher in Game 3.
Though Cook was aware of the Cape League during his playing days at the University of Texas, he said that at the time the Alaska League held sway.
“The Cape League wasn't as big as it is now,” he said. “Alaska was the premier league to play in then. But the Cape has grown into this beast up there where all the kids are going.”
Cook said those with whom he's shared his summer plans have responded with knowing smiles, impressed by both the League and the Chatham community. While excited to become part of a beloved tradition locally, for Cook it all comes back to the game of baseball itself.
“I've always loved the game,” said Cook of baseball. “I've been around it since I was eight. I was pretty good at it from a young age. It allowed me to get an education and make a living, and provide for my family. [Now] my kids are all involved in some manner in baseball. It's part of our lives.”
Said children are Cook's triplets, sons Asher Cade and Dawson, and daughter Makenzie, each of whom will be joining their father in Chatham at some point during the summer season, and each of whom also has a keen interest in baseball. Asher will be playing for Texas Christian University, while Dawson plays club ball at the University of Mississippi, with Makenzie is hoping for an internship for the summer with Anglers General Manager Mike Geylin.
Since his days in the Major League, Cook has served as Team Sweden's head coach, and was also a pitching coach with German National Team, and the pitching advisor for the Italian team in the World Baseball Classic. Cook said it is the myriad nuances of the sport that keep him involved.
“It's a team sport, but it's also an individual sport all at the same time,” he said. “As a former pitcher, I know that in a game it's you against the hitter. I know the hitter thinks the same thing, you against the pitcher.”
But, said Cook, there is more to baseball than what fans see from the stands.
“There's a lot of other stuff that people don't see or understand about baseball,” he said. “It's a game within a game on many levels.”
He offered as examples hitters trying to get within a certain count, while pitchers try to stay beneath another count, with fielders also working toward specific statistics and coaches trying to address issues as they help athletes hone their skills.
Although Cook is best known for pitching – the Southpaw hurler had a win-loss record of 64-46 with 739 strikeouts – he was also a formidable hitter, boasting a .264 average with two career homers, and is in the No. 2 spot on the list of Major League All-Time Best Hitting Pitchers between 1973 and 2003. He hopes to bring his experiences to his new post.
“I love coaching all of baseball,” Cook said. “I guess my so-called expertise would be pitching because that's what I did for a living, but I've kind of done everything within the baseball realm.”
Though he cautions that he's “certainly not any smarter than any of the other guys” serving as pitching coaches in the Cape League, Cook does feel he'll be bringing important aspects to the job.
“I'm good with people,” he said. “I'm good with kids that age. I have three of them. I think I communicate well with that age group. I also have experience dealing with pressure, and understanding how to use the pitcher's stuff and set up hitters. I think I can help guys from that standpoint. I'm just going to help them use their stuff in a little bit better way.”
Just as he did while working with teams overseas, Cook is looking forward to joining forces with his Chatham coaching crew, knowing that not only is there much he can teach, but also much he can learn.
“You can learn from anybody,” Cook said. “Somebody can teach you something every day if you're around it often enough and your mind is open enough to allow that to happen.”