07/23/07 8:32 PM ET
Royals remember Coolbaugh
Minor League coach died Sunday after being hit by line drive
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
Coolbaugh, the Tulsa Drillers' hitting coach and first-base coach, passed away Sunday night after he was struck by a line drive. A 16-year Minor League veteran, Coolbaugh was in his first year as a coach.
Last season, though, he played for Kansas City, his last professional organization.
Coolbaugh came to Royals' Spring Training and played at Triple-A Omaha in 2006. Several of the current Royals knew Coolbaugh very well. Manager Buddy Bell's comments before Monday's game against the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium echoed his team's -- and baseball's -- sentiments.
"Awful," he said. "Just awful. I talked to my two boys today and they were both friends of Mike's. Just awful. There are a lot of people out there that are saddened by this news. All of our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, of course. Just awful. It's just awful."
The news shocked KC players and coaches -- and raised questions about safety concerns for first- and third-base coaches during games.
Royals reliever Ryan Braun played with Coolbaugh on the 2006 O-Royals team. He heard about the news Monday.
"I can't believe it," Braun said. "Great guy. Everybody got along with him. He was one of the leaders of the clubhouse, an older player. He was a veteran player that got along with everybody. He was a hard worker when it came to baseball, so you looked to him like this is what you do daily. But at the same time, you could joke with him and have a good team atmosphere.
"He was a family guy. I remember his wife being around with the kids. It's hard to process it. It's such a freak occurrence."
Royals third-base coach Brian Poldberg respected Coolbaugh for his hard work and desire. Coolbaugh batted .223 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 57 games for Omaha. He received two Major League callups -- one with the Brewers in 2001 and another with the Cardinals in '02, and took over as the Drillers' hitting coach on July 3.
"He was a guy who had been around, worked hard and would do anything that you would ask," Poldberg said. "I am sure he was going to be a great coach, too, because of the different things he had seen over his playing career."
Poldberg, who has served as the Royals' first- and third-base coach, has been hit before by line drives. He tries to keep his eye on the ball at all times, but even that may not help him on hard smashes.
"Hopefully you are always in a position to where you can see the ball when it is hit in your area, but sometimes you are looking for a back pickoff by the third baseman or first baseman," he said. "Sometimes you look up and it is already by you. It's scary.
"It's hard to get out of the way and it does happen and it does hurt. Hopefully it doesn't happen again to anybody. You never think about it, because you always think you are invincible. But it is always a possibility."
First-base coach Luis Silverio understands the danger of a hard-hit liner. But he is not planning to change his coaching style.
"I am just going to coach the same way that I can and pay attention to where the ball is and do the best that you can, and hopefully God will tell you that it is not your day yet," Silverio said.
"But again, it's pretty bad that something like that happened to anybody in baseball," he added.
Everyone agrees. But it's not the first time a Tulsa player has suffered a severe injury this season.
A similar occurrence happened on April 26 at Dickey-Stephens Park when Tulsa right-hander Jonathan Asahina also was struck by a line drive near his left temple and suffered a fractured skull and ruptured eardrum. He was hospitalized for nearly a week but has since rejoined the team.
Asahina was Braun's best friend. Braun went to junior high, high school and Wake Forest with him and was at the game when Asahina was hit.
"He hasn't thrown any games," Braun said.
But he still has his friend -- unlike hundreds of others who lost one in Coolbaugh on Sunday night.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.