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Former Brewer Mike Coolbaugh killed by line drive


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Awful, just stunning.


Mike Coolbaugh spent all of 1997 with Huntsville (A's organization). He played at AAA Indianapolis for the Brewers for most of the 2001 season.


Mike Coolbaugh Career Numbers




It's better late than never

Coolbaugh's major-league dream finally comes true


of the Journal Sentinel staff


July 16, 2001


It was barely 8 o'clock Sunday morning when Mike Coolbaugh tried on his Milwaukee Brewers uniform for the first time.


When you've been waiting 12 years to make it to the big leagues, it's never too early to suit up.


"I wasn't sure what time to be here so I got here about 7 a.m.," Coolbaugh said. "The security guy drove me around in a golf cart and gave me a tour of the place. I had a good time."


One hardly could blame Coolbaugh for trying to soak it all in during his first day as a major-league baseball player. The 29-year-old infielder never actually gave up on his dream of making it, but after a dozen years go by it's only natural to have doubts.


"A lot of guys would have quit and gone on to something else," Brewers manager Davey Lopes said. "This is a guy who really battled."


It was only fitting that Coolbaugh received word of his promotion while in Durham, N.C., the setting for the movie "Bull Durham," whose main character was a career minor-leaguer by the name of Crash Davis. Coolbaugh was preparing for batting practice when Indianapolis manager Wendell Kim walked up and told him to pack his stuff and head for Milwaukee.


"I couldn't breathe for, like, five minutes," he said. "I asked, 'Are you serious?' I couldn't believe it."


Parents don't know


The only frustration Coolbaugh experienced on his big day was trying to contact his parents, who were visiting relatives in upstate New York. They didn't have their cell phones activated, so the excited Coolbaugh was forced to leave messages.


"My parents still don't know," he said. "But my wife (Amanda) was visiting her sister in Chicago, so she's coming here."


Coolbaugh isn't exactly sure where he ranks among those who have played the most games in the minors before getting that first big-league assignment.


"I'm sure I'm in the top 10," he said confidently.


Long ago, Coolbaugh lost count of the bus rides, cities and fast-food stops. He has played in 1,215 games in the minors, good for 4,371 at-bats. He has drawn pay from six different organizations, including four in the last five years.


Looking for his best bet to finally get that big-league call, Coolbaugh accepted an offer from the Brewers last November.


"They gave so many guys opportunities last year," said Coolbaugh, whose brother Scott played in the big leagues and now manages in Arizona's farm system.


"I thought it would be a good place to come. All I've ever wanted is a chance."


That chance came when the Brewers put third baseman Tyler Houston on the disabled list with a foot injury Saturday. The call went out to Coolbaugh, who was batting .282 with 10 home runs and 50 runs batted in.


'Never thought about quitting'


With veteran Mark Loretta available for regular duty at third base, it is uncertain how much action Coolbaugh will see with the Brewers. But he'll worry about that later.


"Just being here is the main thing," said Coolbaugh, who did not play Sunday in the Brewers' 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "That's what kept me going all these years. I never thought about quitting.


"We have a lot of guys down there who are good players. It was a tough situation because guys weren't playing every day. It was one of those things where you have a lot of guys to choose from and you hope you're hot when things happen."


Before Coolbaugh got the call in Durham, the closest he came to making it to the big leagues was playing with the Brewers in the two exhibition games that opened Miller Park. But the games count this time around, and they go on the back of his trading card.


"Now he can at least say he's been in the big leagues," Lopes said. "He's a good player. Mike should have had the opportunity prior to this.


"I think sometimes we all take for granted how lucky we are. Then you see a kid like this who's been waiting 12 years to get here. I told him in spring training, 'You're going to play in the big leagues some day.' "


After trying on his Brewers uniform early Sunday, Coolbaugh put it back in his locker so he wouldn't come off as an eager beaver when his new teammates arrived.


But it sure felt good.


"It was awesome," he said. "The pants are a little different in the big leagues. They fit."


WHITE SOX 6, BREWERS 5, July 17, 2001


PLAYER OF THE GAME: It didn't affect the outcome but the single best moment of the night came when Brewers infielder Mike Coolbaugh collected his first big-league hit. Coolbaugh, who spent more than 11 years in the minors before being promoted Sunday, pinch-hit for pitcher Will Cunnane in the sixth and rifled a 2-1 pitch from Jon Garland into left for a single.

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Apparently (I can't find a box score that confirms that he actually played), Coolbaugh was a member of that 2000 Olympic team with Ben Sheets. No (current) article that I've seen has mentioned that fact though.
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It's amazing this hasn't happened more often to pitchers, players in dugouts, and in particular, fans in the stands. Across, the country, this happens more often than we'd note here in amateur games. Young pitchers taking line drives to the chest, not just the head.


It'll be interesting to see if we read the thoughts of current West Virginia Power pitching coach John Curtis, who nearly suffered a similar fate in a batting practice incident in 2005:



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I feel compelled to say something yet somehow also feel words will be inadequate. I liked rooting for Coolbaugh back in the day knowing he wasn't really any worse of a player than Lenny Harris and the like. I am glad he did get to accomplish many of his dreams though like playing in MLB and winning the Gold.
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My thoughts out to his wife and kids... I've alway rooted for this guy -- wanted him to have success with the Brewers. Just something really impressive how this guy stuck it out through minor league season after minor league season.


Am I wrong, but didn't he have a HR with his first AB with Milwaukee?

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That's just horrible. I've always wondered why coaches and especially pitchers weren't afforded some kind of head protection. Seems with the increasing speed and the minimal reaction time afforded to these guys something would be done.
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My thoughts and prayers go out to the Coolbaugh family. How tragic. Two little boys and another baby on the way. You have to ask why things like this happen to a guy like that.


I was in attendance for his first major league home run. A shot that just cleared the wall in left. The Crew lost that day to the White Sox.


Another memory I have of Mike Coolbaugh was from a game later that summer. After the game my wife and I were hanging out near the players parking lot trying to get an autogragh or two. Most of the guys (Burnitz, Chad Fox, Jenkins)hustled right past you and jumped into their expensive BMW's, Mercedes', and SUV's. A few signed some autograghs and talked to the fans that hung around. One of them was Coolbaugh, he seemed to be just happy to be there, a big smile on his face as kids were asking for his autogragh. He stood there for about 15 minutes and then jumped into his car. This is what I remember most, it was a beat up old Chevy Celebrity, looked like something I would have been driving, not something a major league player would be rolling in. I guess the the idea that all pro players are rich isn't quite true.

By the looks of it he may not have been monetarily wealthy. I believe his wealth was measured differently, his family and his memories of living his dream were probably his prized possessions.

Once again my sympathies go out to the Coolbaugh family.

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Huntsville Site:

1997 photo...


Coolbaugh played for the Huntsville Stars in 1997 and hit .308 with 30 home runs and 132 RBIs, setting club records that year for the Stars that still exist: at bats (559), total bases (303), as well as tying the RBI record. On the Stars all-time list, he ranks in a 9th place tie in home runs, 12th in RBIs, 5th in batting, and tops in slugging (.542).





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According to Minor League Baseball, Coolbaugh is the first player or coach to die as a result of on-the-field action since Winnipeg's Skeeter Ebnet was hit by a pitch in a 1938 Northern League game. Ebnet was the second minor leaguer to die in two years in the Northern League: George Tkach was hit by a pitch and killed in 1936.


In 2000, Kelsey Osburn, a 20-year-old playing in the Northeastern summer collegiate league, died after being struck by a line drive during batting practice.


Baseball America:




Tulsa Coach Killed By Line Drive

By Ben Badler


Minor League Baseball President Mike Moore has requested that all Minor League Baseball flags fly at half-mast tonight to honor Mike Coolbaugh, who died Sunday night after being struck with a line drive during the Tulsa-Arkansas game.


"The hearts and prayers of the Minor League Baseball world go out to his entire family," Moore said. "I would ask that everyone keep the Tulsa Drillers team in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. I am asking all Minor League Baseball clubs to fly their flags at half-mast and observe a moment of silence tonight before their games in memory of Mike."


Coolbaugh was coaching first base last night when a line drive off the bat of Tulsa's Tino Sanchez struck him in the temple. According to the Tulsa World, Coolbaugh lost consciousness and stopped breathing. After being given CPR on the field, Coolbaugh was rushed to Baptist Medical Center in North Little Rock, and was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m.


"The entire Drillers family is devastated by last night's terrible tragedy," team president Chuck Lamson said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Coolbaugh family, but especially to his wife Mandy and sons Joseph and Jacob.


"The Coolbaughs have been a big part of our organization with both Mike and his brother Scott playing for us. I know that Mike was very excited to become a coach and to begin this new chapter in his baseball career. Even in his short stint with us this year, he had provided a very positive influence on our club."


Houston Astros General Manager Tim Purpura, whose organization Coolbaugh played in from 2003 to 2005, also offered his condolences to those affected by Coolbaugh's death.


"This was a tragic event that took a great teammate and a wonderful human being from us far too soon," Purpura said. "Everyone who came in contact with Mike respected him and enjoyed being around him, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time."


Coolbaugh was in his third week with the Tulsa Drillers as an interim hitting coach, taking over the job from the departed Orlando Merced. Before becoming a coach he had a long playing career that spanned 17 seasons with nine organizations.


He played in the major leagues in 2001 (Milwaukee) and 2002 (St. Louis), compiling 15 hits in 82 at-bats. During his minor league career, Coolbaugh accumulated 1,615 hits, 258 home runs and 1,007 RBIs.


The Texas League has postponed the Drillers' game that was to be played tonight in Wichita. Texas League officials will later decide when the Drillers will play their next game.


"It's a somewhat fluid situation," Texas League commissioner Tom Kayser said. "It goes without saying that it's an unspeakable tragedy. We're all very supportive of both the Tulsa Drillers and the Coolbaugh family . . . In the institutional lifetime of any one working in baseball now, this is a new experience."


To honor Coolbaugh, the Drillers and Spirit Bank established a fun in Coolbaugh's memory to benefit his family. All of the proceeds will go directly to the Coolbaugh family, and a donation can be made to the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund at:


Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund

c/o Spirit Bank

1800 S. Baltimore Avenue

Tulsa, OK 74119

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Thanks for posting the address for the memorial fund, Mass.


Coolbaugh must have loved the game of baseball since he stuck around as a player in the minor leagues into his mid-30s. A big reason why I love baseball is because of guys like him who persevered to pursue their dream. While expressing my sympathy for his family in a forum like this may help me try to sort this out, I feel better knowing that I can maybe make a more substantial gesture on his behalf by contributing to the fund to benefit his family. It's the least I can due.


Rest in peace, Mike. May God grant his blessings to your family.

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Manatees GM Buck Rogers reminds us about Brevard County LHP David Welch just a few weeks ago:


The Brevard County Manatees players, coaches, staff and fans extend their deepest sympathies to the Coolbaugh family and Rockies organization. This tragedy affects all of us and our hearts are breaking for those affected. Here's a coach that kissed his wife and kids goodbye and went to work at a stadium and died doing something he loved. A show of hands of those that think about death as they walk out the door each morning.


Exactly. None.


This event has the baseball world revisiting what can be done to make things safer. It reminds us that tragedy can strike at sporting events, no matter how careful and cautious that we are.


This was a very rare occurrence.


But it happened.


And it could happen in the stands on any given night.


We have plans in place to minimize dangerous situation, implement safety plans, on-site EMTs, we check radar for lightning strikes, we conduct PA announcements stating that bats and ball can leave the field of play and for fans to pay attention, we print warnings on ticket backs, we've ban Heely's from the ballpark, etc., but even with all of those precautions, accidents can-and do-still happen.


It only takes a second for you to take you eyes off the game and a errant foul ball could fly into the stands like a frozen rope. We cannot stress it enough; if you're not going to be paying 100% attention to the game in progress, please take a seat behind the netting. The view is better, you're closer to the action and there is no danger of getting hit by a direct shot of a bat or ball. Parents, please, please heed these warnings: if you have children that are not going to pay attention, please move your family behind the nets. Senior citizens, if your reaction time has slowed over time, again, there are plenty of seats behind the nets. If you're going to have a few barley sodas and socialize at the game, sit behind the netting. Even if you're paying attention, you may not have enough time to react.


When I was the GM in Daytona Beach with the Cubs organization we installed an additional eight feet of netting above the dugouts where a short fence was already in place. One of the Cubs season ticket holders, Sharkey Novak, designed the thing to be a minimal nuisance but maximum protection because he saw the dangers. A few season ticket holders took me to task about that, but when I counted 11 foul balls and four broken bats that didn't make it into the stands that next season I knew it was the right decision.


It's not fun filling out incident reports after an injury, especially if it's avoidable. It's pain and suffering for a member of our fan base, it's a world of paperwork for us and most of the time it's totally preventable and that's what's maddening.


We have season ticket holders sitting above both dugouts every night, and there exists a chance that a ball could go into the stands. Fans want to be in the umpire's back pocket and see the game from up close and personal; we can't fault you for that, but if any of you wish to change out your seats, please see a Manatees staff member tonight and we'll gladly make that happen for you tonight.


Earlier this season one of our own pitchers, David Welch, was drilled by a foul ball into the dugout at St Lucie. I was at that game and watched the ball ricochet off his forehead and go deep into the stands. Dave was knocked clean out and I got the shivers watching him laid out on the dugout floor waiting for paramedics. It could have been disastrous, but a stint on the DL and some time off got him back into the line-up with no long term side effects.


Every stadium in baseball has an occasional foul ball that strikes a fan. It's a fact of life in baseball. We've had a few of our own that required a trip to the aid station. But it's time for you to help us minimize those incidents.


We're a small market team where everybody pretty much knows everybody. Please take a few minutes to make your seatmates aware of the game. You know who is sitting next to you, and if you don't, let 'em know that they can sit behind the nets behind home plate without a ticket upgrade. We don't charge any extra to sit in the best seats in the stadium! We preach it at the Box Office, the ushers tell fans that ask the same thing, but now we're asking for you hard-core fans' help.


There's a reason the off-duty players charting the game, visiting team official and the scouts all sit behind the netting. There's a reason that team policy requires players' and coaches' family members to sit behind the netting. Think about that!


Like we've said in the past, a few years ago a 13-year old girl went to an NHL game in Columbus, OH. A freak play sent a puck, essentially a frozen piece of rubber as hard as a rock, into the stands which killed her. It was her birthday. Nobody goes to a sporting event expecting a baseball or hockey puck to end a life, but it happens.


Fans, the seriousness of this will again put the powers-that-be back to the drawing boards to make the game safer, but what happens on the field will be covered by coaches and umpires. What happens in the stands is another story. Please be aware of the game at all times. We need your help. If there are fans around you that are a disaster waiting to happen, tell an usher or stadium security.


Tonight we'll conduct a moment of silence that will be repeated across the county as games begin as the time zones change. The flags are already at half-staff at Space Coast Stadium. We'll be saddened for a long time because this happened. If there's something positive that come out of this horrible incident, let it be that it won't happen again, on-field or in the stands. At least not in Brevard County.


Your safety and that of the players, coaches and umpires is our number one priority. Win or lose, rain or shine.

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