By Matt Williams
---- — It was the rare occasion when what was printed on the back of a jersey was more important than the letters on the front.
Northeastern University took the field at Fenway Park for last Monday’s Baseball Beanpot final wearing special jerseys to honor the victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombings. Every player had the number ‘617’ on his back to represent the Boston area code.
Hamilton native Matt Cook pitched four innings of spotless relief for the Huskies and earned the win as his team took Beantown bragging rights with a 6-3 decision over UMass Amherst.
“A day or two after the bombings, we started putting ‘617’ or ‘Boston Strong’ on our hats. Representing the city, showing that we’re all one, is important,” said Cook, a 6-foot-4 junior righty.
The red jerseys also had Boston on the front and Northeastern’s trademark “N” logo on the sleeves.
“We had batting practice at our home field, and the coaches sent us upstairs to the clubhouse for a surprise afterwards. When we saw the shirts, everyone was yelling and clapping. We were stoked,” Cook recalled. “At the end of the season, we’re planning to auction them off and give the proceeds to the One Fund.”
UMass jumped out to a 2-0 lead at Fenway and the Huskies summoned Cook in from the bullpen to begin the top of the fourth. He wound up tossing four innings of 2-hit ball, issuing just one walk and striking out two before giving way to Michael Foster (who earned the save).
“We were down but we seemed to be having good at-bats (and were) seeing the ball well, so my outlook was to throw strikes, get some quick outs and get the guys back to the plate as quickly as I could,” said the 21-year-old Cook.
Northeastern responded by scoring four times in the bottom of the fourth to give Cook the lead, and the former Hamilton-Wenham standout did his part from there by holding the Minutemen off the board.
The end result was the celebration of Northeastern’s sixth Baseball Beanpot crown (and first since 2009). Sharing in the spoils from the North Shore were Gloucester’s Dylan Maki, NU’s regular closer, as well as St. John’s Prep alums Chris Carmain (pitcher) and Pete Castoldi of Marblehead, the Huskies’ regular third baseman.
“It’s not as big a deal as the hockey Beanpot, but its still a big thing for us. There’s a lot of bragging rights and a lot of friendships between the Massachusetts baseball schools,” said Cook, speaking from North Carolina where the Huskies faced Colonial Athletic Association-leading UNC-Wilmington this weekend.
“For the kids on our team from Massachusetts, and especially for the guys from the North Shore, to be able to win a Beanpot at Fenway Park was a really cool experience.”
After the weekend’s action, Northeastern is 25-20 and with six league games left needs to make up some ground to qualify for the CAA’s postseason tournament. Cook threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in a loss to UNC-Wilmington yesterday, lowering his season ERA to 3.48 in the process.
Cook has been a Swiss Army knife in the Huskies’ bullpen, having pitched in a variety of situations and being effective in them all. Early in game, late in the games and with his team tied, trailing or leading, Cook simply fires strikes.
“I’ve done everything in the book and its been fun. I’ve warmed up in the first inning and I’ve warmed up in the eighth; it doesn’t matter to me. Our team is doing very well and I want to help us reach our goal: getting to the conference tournament and hopefully doing some damage there,” said Cook, who is second among all NU pitchers with 44 innings pitched.
With a 2-0 record and an opposing batting average of just .264, Cook has pitched well. He’s planning to throw for the Ocean State Wave in Rhode Island this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Last summer, he made five starts for Martha’s Vineyard of the Futures League.
“Unbelievable place to be. Very cool atmosphere,” Cook said of his time on the Vineyard. “The best part about summer baseball is seeing different hitters from all over and the more relaxed environment.”
The Huskies have increased their win total in each of Cook’s three seasons, and winning a Beanpot at Fenway will certainly be a highlight. Now, the focus is on doing some more winning before the Huskies hang up the spikes for 2013.
“For me, it’s about maintaining that mental. I have to be ready for every situation,” said Cook.