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In high school, many of us wore — willingly or unwillingly — at least one, or maybe two or three, different jerseys. Jock or not, many high schools required us to play one sport per year, if not one sport per season. Playing soccer in the fall, hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the spring, was not strange then, but, now, in college, the idea of joining the roster of three varsity teams seems almost impossible. Not counting students who are on both the Track and Field and Cross Country team, students that play on two varsity teams are pretty exceptional across collegiate sports, especially in the Ivy League.
At Yale, where only about 20% of students play on an intercollegiate sports team, students that play on more than one team are an anomaly. This year, Charles Cook ’15 will become one of those rare individuals. When Cook signed as a football player for the Bulldogs in 2011, he had no idea that less than two years later, he would find a second home on Yale Field.
A Texas native, Cook spent his high school years playing both football and baseball the Parish Episcopal School in Dallas. In high school, Cook was captain of both teams. A star safety on the football team, Cook led the Panthers to a state championship his senior year while hauling in a state-record of 16 interceptions. Cook was no less impressive on the baseball diamond. He mashed his way to a .416 batting average his junior year, all while splitting his time between shortstop and the outfield. Despite earning a spot on the all-district teams for both sports, Cook felt his football abilities would fare better in the college recruitment process.
“At that point, I gave up summer baseball after my junior year of high school and decided to focus on football,” he said. “I did get calls and letters from multiple schools about baseball, some in the Ivy League, but football remained my focus.”
After catching the attention of former football coach Tom Williamson, Cook quickly scaled the positional ranks once he got to Yale. Throughout the 2012 season, he was the Bulldogs’ starting safety, and his efforts produced a critical interception for Yale during The Game last fall. But even with his rising status in the Yale Bowl, Cook remained intent on picking up the baseball bat he had put aside two years before.
“When the football staff at Yale recruited me and gave me an offer, I expressed an interest in trying to play baseball as well,” Cook explained. “I had always wanted to pursue the opportunity.”
This spring, he did just that, earning a walk-on spot on the team and cementing his status as a two-sport athlete. Cook attributes the rarity of athletes on two varsity sports teams to the “rigorous” time commitment that sports impose on a student’s life. It’s certainly not easy. Just like all other student athletes, two-sport athletes have to balance a full schedule of schoolwork and a social life with the demands of playing on two teams at an elite level. One commitment like that is tough enough; doubling it is a formidable task, but one that Cook believes he’s up to.
“Time management will definitely be very important for me to balance the demands of both sports as well as the classroom,” he said. “But I think it will be more rewarding than anything … I grew up playing both sports, loving both, and decided I didn’t want to give up either.”
So far, Cook seems to be handling the transition into the dugout seamlessly. Ben Joseph ’15, a pitcher for the Bulldogs, spoke highly of the benefits Cook stands to offer the team as a two-sport athlete. Despite, or perhaps because of the differences separating football and baseball, Cook’s teammates believe he will bring a new approach to the game that could help them both on the field and off it.
“Charles will definitely have a unique impact,” Joseph said. “He has already brought some of the no-nonsense, warrior mentality of football onto the baseball diamond.”
Perhaps the unique demands of a two-sport athlete require flexibility in athletic ability as well as a flexible disposition. For Joseph, Cook’s presence on the team has been defined not only by his athletic talents, but also by his “easygoing” personality. “He gets along with everyone … All the guys on the team are glad to have him, and everyone is ready to see what he can do.”
This season, the Bulldogs will look to Cook’s natural athleticism to help them rebound from a 2011-’12 campaign that saw them go 13-31-1. It remains to be seen where he will spend his playing time, but his teammates feel certain that wherever he is on the diamond, he will bring both skill and competitive fire. It does take a special kind of athlete to excel on such disparate fields, but no matter whom you ask, Cook is that kind of athlete. As he prepares for Yale baseball’s March 9 season opening three-game series against Army in Tampa, FL, Cook will take his first step toward fulfilling a longtime goal: fulfilling his love for both football, and baseball, in a college setting.
“Ultimately, I decided to give baseball a shot because I don’t want to have any regrets fifty years from now,” Cook said. “I realize that in two years I will never have this opportunity again, so I am going to do everything I can to make the most of it.”
David Whipple contributed reporting.