There's always a story behind the story.
That's something that I kept in mind throughout my recent Minor League road trip. Though nearly everyone you meet can be easily categorized -- player, general manager, scout, fan, touring performer, etc. -- there's always more than meets the eye.
I was reminded of this during the evening I spent at Classic Park, home of the Class A Lake County Captains. In looking for players and coaches to interview, broadcaster Craig Deas suggested right-handed pitcher Cole Cook and hitting coach Jim Rickon. Here's why.
The Hollywood Kid
You may not know the name Peter Mackenzie, but you've almost definitely seen him. The veteran character actor has dozens of TV and movie roles to his credit, in projects as varied as How I Met Your Mother, Gilmore Girls, Gray's Anatomy and Major League: Back to the Minors.
That last role is especially apropos, considering that Mackenzie's son, Cook, is a right-hander for the Captains. Cook and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 5, and he grew up in and around television and movie sets. This included Herman's Head, a cerebral Fox sitcom in which the titular characters' thoughts were dramatized by actors representing four distinct facets of his personality. Mackenzie played Genius, representing Herman's intellect.
"The [Herman's Head] set... [Mackenzie] was actually in the brain," said Cook. "There was like a little pinball thing, a bunch of toys and shenanigans. And as a 5-year-old kid, I'd go in the brain when they were shooting somewhere else. I just had the time of my life. I was in Herman's head -- it was a lot of fun."
But despite such memorable and anomalous childhood experiences, Cook pursued a different path than his father. The Pepperdine (Calif.) product was selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2010 Draft and is now in the midst of his first full professional season. Still, he majored in creative writing and often collaborates on projects with friends and family members.
"As much as Dad tried to push me away from [Hollywood]," said Cook, "he can't steer me away from it altogether."
Jim Rickon retired as a player in 2001, at the age of 25, and immediately transitioned into a coaching career. A Cleveland native, he's spent the last decade as a hitting coach within the Indians organization.
"It's a neat experience to see guys try to accomplish dreams of theirs and see them work hard on it," said Rickon. "It's a really neat feeling when you see a guy improve and see them make adjustments you've been talking with them about."
And when it comes to making adjustments, Rickon sometimes utilizes creative methods.
"I worked with a player in the past who had issues with his grip, and that was effecting his swing," he said. "I developed a little device that goes on the bat, you hook your finger on it and it forces your hand into the correct grip on the bat.
"It gives you nice control of the bat and good control of the barrel," he said, "and you're able to swing with some strength and some bat speed."
Positive feedback has led Rickon to launch this grip commercially, as the Bat Jack.
"I didn't realize how big the market was, but girls fast pitch softball is really catching on with this," he said. "They're using them in tournament play, and loving it. And Major League Baseball is looking at it right now as a possible product to be allowed in game use.
"I'm just trying to have fun helping these guys out," Rickon added. "That's what I'm here for."