For Red Sox first-round pick Trey Ball, baseball and family are the two most important things in his life. He’s played baseball since he was a young child, and it just may be the reason why he’s become family with one his best friends growing up, Austin Cook.
Both Cook and Ball’s parents divorced when they were younger; Cook was 10 and Ball was 2. The two were on the same minor league Little Leagueteam in their hometown of New Castle, Ind., and developed a close relationship over time, going over each other’s houses and hanging out before and after games.
Not long afterward, Ball’s dad and Cook’s mombegan to get involved, and the four of them would go out for dinner or ice cream following games andstarted to hit things off. Over time both Ball and Cook realized they could soon be more than just friends.
“We hooked our parents up, or that’s what we like to say,” Cook said. “We would go out after practice and go get fast food or to a sit-down restaurant and we would just talk with my mom and his dad. We made the joking nickname of 'MSB,' as in 'maybe step-brothers.'
“We were the MSBs for about three years and then it kind of fell into place that now we’re family. I’ve known Trey since we were 6 or 7 years old, so we’ve always been good friends. It’s just worked out that we’re family now.”
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From a relationship standpoint though, things haven’t changed for them.
“Nothing really has changed. I mean, yes, we are family now and we have a stronger bond I guess than we did when we weren’t family,” Cook said. “I think even if we weren’t family we would still be where we are today and being good buddies and having each other’s backs.”
With Ball going through the recruiting and scouting process this past year, no one was more into it than Cook, as he has the dream of working in a major league front office as either a front office member or a scout.
“It was great. He’s always been behind me 100 percent,” Ball said of his stepbrother, who is six months older and entering his sophomore year at Ball State. “I think it was just as good for him because he got his name out there since he wants to get into the scouting stuff so he got to talk to the scouts that came to talk to me as well. I think it helped him as much just as much as me.”
Cook, who was an associate scout with the Blue Jays last summer, was allowed to spend some time doing video and pitch charts for his stepbrother, which were really beneficial to Ball as he was entering his senior year and beginning to be heavily scouted for the June draft -- and also for Cook, who gained experience in the scouting world.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ball said. “The past couple years he’s wanted to get into that and got an opportunity with the Blue Jays, and they allowed him to keep track of what I did this spring. He made all my pitching charts and stuff like that. It was really good for him.”
But even after so many years of playing Little League together, Cook has never stepped into the batters box against his stepbrother.
“Not once have I faced Trey in my entire life, not once stepped in the batters box,” Cook said. “I’d like to go in there for a few pitches just to see what it’s like. I wouldn’t want to get hit though.”
When asked to respond to what Cook said, Ball said with a laugh: “I don’t think he could hit it, but I wouldn’t hit him.”
Cook and Ball were able to spend time together hanging out like normal brothers would throughout the scouting and draft process by playing the video game "Call of Duty" and going swimming, which was valuable for Ball as he could escape from his baseball world and just beable to have downtime with someone close to him.
As draft day approached, the reigning Indiana Baseball Player of the Year could have gone to the MLB Network Studios the night of June 6 for the first-round of the draft. But because of how important family is to him, Ball decided it was best to remain at home in Indiana surrounded by Cook and the rest of his large extended family.
"He could have gone to the draft, but knowing only his biological parents could have went, and seeing his grandparents, friends, family and girlfriend for the last time, he put all that into perspective and weighed the options and thought the best fit was to stay home with his family and savor the moment with them,” said Cook.
With Ball, 18, being drafted No. 7 overall by the Red Sox, it has also benefited Cook, as he is spending his summer as an associate scout with the Red Sox in the Indiana area, scouting high school and college players assigned by the Red Sox’s area scout John Pyle, who actually scouted Ball.
Ball, a 6-foot-6 lefty, signed with the Red Sox on June 19 for a signing bonus of $2.75 million and has spent the past few weeks with the Red Sox in the Florida Gulf Coast league preparing for his first professional start, which will come onMonday.
“It’s been great. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and they did a great job taking care of me,” Ball said “They’ve showed me the proper way to do things and I am getting used to the program.”
The left-hander will likely make about five starts in rookie ball this summer as he will stay on the Red Sox’s five-day throwing program and their season ends at the end of August. Ball does plan on getting some more innings under his belt in the Fall Instructional league beginning in late September.
Ball would like to work on establishing his fastball and on his curveball, a pitch he’s only thrown for two years. As for his professional debut Monday, Ball is looking forward to finally getting on the mound.
“I’m excited for it,” he said. “I’ve wanted to get out there since the day I got here, so me getting that chance finally is going to be very fun.”
With Ball being a top pick and possessing a high ceiling, going along with Cook as an up-and-coming scout, it is not out of the question that one day the two things that mean the most in Ball’s life could become one with both he and his stepbrother in Major League Baseball.
“It would be sweet if one day I could join Trey and be involved with Major League Baseball,” Cook said. “Better yet to be working for the same team, the Boston Red Sox.”
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84