On This Date in Sports July 22, 2007

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The world of baseball suffers a tragedy when Mike Coolbaugh first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers is fatally struck in the head by a line drive. The Drillers were a AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies in the Texas League. They were trailing the Arkansas Travelers 7-3 in the ninth inning, when Tino Sanchez fouled a ball down the first baseline hitting the 35-year-old coach in the head. The game would be suspended and later called as efforts to save Mike Coolbaugh were unsuccessful.

Mike Coolbaugh was a baseball lifer, drafted by Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round of the 1990 draft he spent 11 years in the minors before making his Major League debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001. Born in Binghamton, New York and raised in San Antonio, Coolbaugh was from a baseball family. His brother Scott played parts of four seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals in the early 90’s before finishing his career in Japan. Returning to the states, Scott Coolbaugh became a coach in the minors. Like his brother, Mike Coolbaugh was ready to embark on coaching when his career ended. After his final appearance in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002, Mike Coolbaugh spend three more years in the minors before a wrist injury in Spring Training with the Kansas City Royals forced him to retire in 2006.

In just his first year of coaching, Mike Coolbaugh showed great potential as he was popular throughout the Colorado Rockies organization serving as hitting coach of the Tulsa Drillers (AA). Sadly, there was little Coolbaugh could do to get out of the way when Catcher Tino Sanchez line drive struck him at the base of the skull. Immediately it was clear something was wrong as team trainers found him unresponsive. Travelers team doctor James Bryan along with trainer Brain Reinker began checking for vital signs, while Gene France a local doctor in attendance in the game in Little Rock performed CPR on the field while waiting for an ambulance. At 9:47 PM CDT, less than an hour after being struck by the ball Mike Coolbaugh was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed that the ball pulverized his left vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the brain, essentially causing instant death. The remainder of the game would be called with the Travelers winning 7-3, as a game between the two teams the following day was cancelled.

Mike Coolbaugh was survived by his wife Amanda who was pregnant with the couple’s third child. He previously had two sons five-year-old Joseph and three-year-old Jacob. The news of Coolbaugh’s death shook the Colorado Rockies Organization to its core. When the team made a surprise run to the World Series three months later, players voted his family a full share of $233,505. His sons even threw out the first pitch prior to the first ever World Series game played at Coors Field. During that Fall General Manager Meetings in November a new rule was added to all levels of professional baseball requiring first and third base coaches to wear batting helmets. The Texas League would establish the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Coach of the Year Award for the outstanding hitting or pitching coach. His brother Scott Coolbaugh would be the first recipient.

Mike Coolbaugh’s sons have followed in his footsteps and are currently active in baseball. Jacob played in the Little League World Series in 2016.  Joseph also currently plays baseball, as their mother Amanda has become an advocate for sports safety. Three months after her husband’s death she had a baby girl named Anne Michael Coolbaugh.