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Baseball wasn't always Cook's first passion

BOSTON -- Relievers love talking about the thrill aspect of their job. Nothing else compares, they say.

Right-hander Ryan Cook begs to differ. His father, Chuck, was a drag racer, and Ryan began driving quarter midget race cars at age 8, his competitive days behind the wheel continuing through high school in Clovis, Calif.

"The adrenaline rush of being in a race car ... was unlike any other," Cook said. "It's awesome."

Cook's infatuation with the sport was in his genes -- "Anything with a motor was always my passion," he said -- and he was given his first go-kart when he was just 5 years old. The race track became a second home of sorts, and Cook, an only child, was enamored by the way it all transformed into a family affair.

His mother, Brenda, was just as much a part of the raceway ventures, as she brought in breakfast, lunch and dinner for the close-knit group of friends they shared at the track -- all the while maintaining a brave face as her husband and son strapped into a vehicle built for high speeds.

"She says she gets more nervous when I pitch than when I'm in the race car, because when I was in the car, she knew everything was safe and I always had the best safety equipment," Cook said. "You're locked in, and she knew my dad always had it safe and well maintained."

These days, Cook is just as locked in on the mound, where he took up permanent resident at the University of Southern California after walking away from the race track -- a move, he insists, that was a "no-brainer."

"I could have college paid for or not go at all," said Cook. "I'm too big to be a race car driver, anyway."

So the 6-foot-2 Cook turned to another love.

"I would always miss racing events for baseball because it was the team aspect," he said. "In racing, accolades were only for me, and I didn't have a commitment to any team, so whenever the team came up, I gave up my personal racing to be there for the team.

"I love being in the clubhouse, I love being around the guys, and I guess that kind of stems from my parents in a way, in forcing me at a young age to give up myself for the good of the team."

Originally a 27th-round Draft pick by the D-backs in 2008, the 24-year-old Cook has surely done his part for his newest team, following a trade that sent him to the A's alongside Jarrod Parker and Collin Cowgill during the offseason.

In 11 appearances spanning 12 1/3 innings with the A's, Cook has yet to give up a run. He's faced 44 batters, with only two -- Albert Pujols and David Ortiz -- managing a hit, and his .054 opponents' batting average is tops among all qualifying Major League relievers, while his WHIP rests at 0.73. Cook has walked seven but fanned 13, a number essentially making up 30 percent of all of his opponents.

Cook isn't necessarily interested in his strikeout total, though. His fastball, averaging 94.8 mph and being thrown 70 percent of the time, was never designed for swings and misses. He'll take them, but he'd prefer contact.

"I want them to hit the ball," Cook said. "Even when I was a starter, if I was throwing 100 pitches, I was throwing 85 fastballs. It's just been the contact pitch for me."

Cook has quickly emerged as Oakland's top setup option, and his body of work is easing a potential decision that could face the organization should closer Grant Balfour receive significant interest before the Trade Deadline.

It's likely Brian Fuentes would be called upon to close if Balfour gets moved, or even demoted from a role in which he's currently struggling, but there's no doubt that the job could be Cook's in the future. For now, the righty is content with the one he has now, though he's not so much interested in admiring his scoreless stretch.

That's for others to do.

"Every time I go out there, I just try to get the ball to the next guy in the 'pen," Cook said. "I don't think anything of it. I just try to go out and make good pitches, and I feel like if I make good pitches, the results will take care of themselves. I don't really know. I know that sounds terrible, I'm not giving you anything to write."

Oh, but there's plenty. And his teammates don't mind helping out the process.

"Disgusting," Brandon McCarthy said of Cook's performance this season. "He's starting to venture into silly territory. There are not many people in the game of baseball that really get even in that neighborhood. His stuff is really good."

"It's unbelievable," added Fuentes. "He obviously has an electric arm. His stuff is there. He's only going to get better, and if he can stay healthy, he's going to have a long career."

Brenda, it appears, will have to get used to the nerves her son never gets.

"I would think racing helped me learn how to handle the adrenaline," Cook said. "I can't say for certain, but they're somewhat relative, you'd think. I love being that guy in the tight game. Absolutely love it."

Oakland Athletics, Ryan Cook