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Tulsa coach Coolbaugh killed by foul ball

Mike Coolbaugh
Tulsa hitting coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck and killed by a foul ball while coaching first base on Sunday night. (photo courtesy MiLB)

By Chuck King

MinorLeagueDugout.com takes great pride in our ability to bring readers the wacky, wild and humorous stories from the world of minor league baseball. Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories.

Last night during the Tulsa Drillers’ Texas League game at Arkansas, Tulsa first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck in the head by a line drive. Coolbaugh died less than an hour later.

“The entire Drillers family is devastated by last night's terrible tragedy,” team President Chuck Lamson wrote on the Drillers web site. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Coolbaugh family, but especially to his wife Mandy and sons Joseph and Jacob.”   

The play happened in the top of the ninth inning with the Drillers trailing 7-3. Coolbaugh was coaching first base when a Tino Sanchez lined a foul ball that stuck him in the head. Paramedics administered CPR on the field before taking him via ambulance to the hospital. Coolbaugh stopped breathing as the ambulance reached the hospital.

A career minor leaguer, Coolbaugh spent a combined 44 games in the major leagues with Milwaukee and St. Louis. His brother Scott also reached the bigs and is currently the hitting coach with the Frisco RoughRiders, also of Texas League.

He is survived by a pregnant wife and two young sons.

Reaction from around the minor leagues has been one of shock and disbelief. Tim Cossins, Florida’s roving hitting instructor and its Gulf Coast League manager has been fielding phone calls all afternoon.

”You know how it is in baseball, it’s an ultra-tight knit group and things go around the community fast, especially when something tragic happened,” said Cossins, who played with Coolbaugh in the Texas Rangers organization in the mid-1990s. ”My first thought was complete bewilderment as to how something like that could happen. Obviously, since I played with him and have a relationship with him, it’s devastating.”

Jupiter Hammerheads’ players and coaches spent much of the afternoon speculating as to what kept Coolbaugh, who Cossins called “an amazing athlete with incredible instincts” from getting out of the way of the ball.

Most guessed Coolbaugh must have been tracking the position of defensive players, allowing the pitch to catch him off guard.

Hammerheads hitting coach Josue Espada played against Coolbaugh in the late 1990s and was floored to hear the news when he entered the clubhouse on Monday. Espada will coach first at times, but often sends players out to the box. On Monday, he joined the player’s conversation about the dangers of coaching first.

“I told them they have to be heads up,” said Espada. “They have to be in the game all the time.”

Though they didn’t know Coolbaugh personally, most Hammerheads were just as unnerved by his death as the coaches who knew him.

“I’ve seen (coaches) trip and fall trying to dodge a ball but I’ve never seen a guy get hit,” said Jupiter infielder J.R. Taylor, who often coaches first. “I think about it sometimes when somebody pulls a ball and hits it hard to my side. I’ll be prepared for it, though. I keep my eyes on the batters at all times.”

Monday’s Drillers game against Wichita was postponed by the Texas League. The Drillers asked, and the Texas League agreed that Sunday’s suspended game be declared a final. The Drillers announced Monday that they will resume their regular season schedule on Tuesday in Wichita.

“After consulting with the Coolbaugh family, we have decided to get back on the field as quickly as possible,” Colorado Rockies Player Development Director Marc Gustafson said on the Drillers site. “We feel it is the best way for the team to start the healing process.”

Tulsa and Spirit Bank have set up a memorial fund to benefit the Coolbaugh family. Checks made payable to the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund can be sent to:

Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund
c/o Spirit Bank
1800 S. Baltimore Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74119

Donations can also be made in person at any Tulsa area Spirit Bank location. Spirit Bank started the fund with a $5,000 donation.

Minor League Baseball asked its teams to fly their flags at half mast and observe a moment of silence prior to Monday’s games in remembrance of Coolbaugh.

“It’s a horrific, tragic accident,” Cossins said. “There’s nothing more that you can say.”

MinorLeagueDugout.com would like to take this opportunity to offer our condolences to Coolbaugh’s family and the Colorado Rockies organization.

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