Billy Cook, 17


A “baseball fanatic” who plays for his high school team in Washington Township, N.J., Billy Cook is likely to develop a repetitive motion injury.

Not something like a torn rotator cuff, but writer’s cramp.

From his volunteer work.

Cook is the founder of Billy’s Baseballs, a nonprofit that sends baseballs as morale-boosting gifts to members of the U.S. military. He organizes events at which supporters sign and decorate each baseball with “Dear Hero” messages.

At last count, his organization has sent nearly 15,000.

Cook said he has signed “hundreds” of them.

It all grew out of a community service project at his family’s synagogue, Temple Beth Or, when he was preparing for his bar mitzvah ceremony five years ago.

Most of his peers volunteered with an extant organization. Cook — who also plays soccer: “I’m a normal 17-year-old kid,” he said wanted to do something more.  Something that combined his interest in baseball (both playing the game and collecting player autographs), and in the Armed Forces (both of his grandfathers, and one great-grandfather, served).

“Who doesn’t like throwing around a baseball?”

He thought: “Who doesn’t like throwing around a baseball?”

And he has surpassed his shul’s required 10 hours of community service by several hundred, as Cook, till now driven around by his parents, has raised money for the baseballs and the postage (no baseball manufacturer has agreed to donate its product to his venture, and the Post Office offers no discount), lined up recipients in uniform through the various services, packed (18 in a box, for Chai) and schlepped the packages, and spoken about his project at several schools, synagogues and other community groups.

At his bar mitzvah, his Dvar Torah message had a baseball theme, about the possibility of taking an “ordinary” object like a baseball and making it into “a holy object.”

Some other bar and bat mitzvah kids have given time to Billy’s Baseballs, or started similar projects, he said.

Survivor fan: His favorite TV show is “Survivor,” the 18-year-old competition reality program that pits groups of strangers against each other in isolated locations. “I love the physical aspect, I love the psychological aspect,” Cook said.