The hardest part about sports for UT alumnus Geoff Cook is his permanent position on the sidelines.
Born with cerebral palsy, Cook spent his childhood in a wheelchair. Until he moved to Texas for an internship with the UT baseball team in 2009, he had never lived outside New York. Five years later, Cook moved to Secaucus, New Jersey, to work as a media relations freelance coordinator for the Major League Baseball Network.
“[I live] right on the other side of the river from New York City,” Cook said. “I’m so close I can tell you the color of the Empire State Building.”
But Cook’s view was not always so favorable. From kindergarten to his high school graduation, Cook went to school with only four other students who had developmental disabilities. As an escape from the structure of the specialized classroom environment, Cook spent a considerable amount of time with his brother and grandfather watching baseball.
“I love a lot of sports just about equally,” Cook said. “But baseball was the one sport where I felt — for lack of a better word — normal. Going to the baseball field has always been a kind of sanctuary for me.”
Cook quickly learned that the structure he once loathed in the classroom was the reason he loved baseball. When Cook landed an internship with the UT baseball team in 2009, which required him to watch hours of game footage, he was in his element.
“The strategy of baseball is awesome,” Cook said. “People say it’s too slow, and it is really slow. [But I like] anything that helps get an advantage, like watching film. I can’t play the game, but I can talk the game with just about anybody, and I think that [my emphasis on strategy] helped [the team].”
Cook said finding a targetable advantage in a player’s performance or an opposing team’s strategy motivated him. The relationships he formed with the players and coaches, however, motivated Cook more. Not long into the internship, Cook began assisting coaches with practices. His favorite memory is helping the team make it to the College World Series in 2009.
“We didn’t expect to make it to the World Series that year, but, once we got there, we were like, ‘Well, we might as well try to win the whole thing,’ and we almost did,” Cook said. “It was a great experience with great friends. I’m trying to follow all of their careers now because every time [one of my players makes it], a part of me goes pro too. And now I’ve gone pro in my own way. But it’s never about me. It’s always about us.”
After working with the team for four years, his peers within the athletic department pushed him to pursue a graduate degree in advertising at UT.
During Cook’s time as a graduate student, one of his professors suggested he work for the MLB Network. Cook said he would have turned down the network position if it weren’t for his experience in UT’s baseball program. Cook began his four-month contract with the MLB Network two weeks ago, and he said the learning curve is almost vertical.
“I’m learning a lot on the fly,” Cook said, “But I work with a great bunch of people, and they’re always wanting to help. Being around some of the analysts, former players and Hall of Famers, my baseball IQ is just going up even more because of these people that know more about this [game] than anything. And I’m a really curious person, so I ask a lot of questions.” Despite his challenges, Cook said he attributes his success to his relationships with others more than anything else.
“Talk to everyone; you never know where it will lead,” Cook said. “I got way more than I dreamed of.”