Being Hard Headed

On July 22, 2007 it was supposed to be just another game in the Texas League between the Arkansas Travelers and the Tulsa Drillers. The Drillers are the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies and were on the road to face the Travelers. In the ninth inning with the Drillers down 7-3 first baseman Tino Sanchez came to the plate. He hit a line drive foul down the first base line which struck first base coach Mike Coolbaugh in the head. The couch fell to the ground unconscious and stopped breathing. He was shortly pronounced dead. The accident devastated major league and minor league players and officials. The Colorado Rockies players went as far as to vote the Coolbaugh family a full player’s share of their post season winnings. Coolbaugh, 35, was survived by his two sons Jacob and Joseph as well as his wife Amanda who gave birth last month to the couple’s first daughter Anne Michel Coolbaugh. It was a tragic story that brought to light a very serious danger.

First and third base coaches are standing less than 90 feet from home plate and are completely defenseless. While fielders each have a glove to protect themselves, coaches do not have that luxury. Instead they are left to watch out of the corner of their eye for any errant ball that may come their way. In Spring Training 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Carlos Tosca faced a similar situation. With center fielder Eric Byrnes at the plate he hit a rocket directly towards Toscas. The foul ball caught Toscas in the leg breaking it. He missed the remainder of Spring Training and the first few weeks of the season. As players become bigger and stronger the danger becomes more pronounced.

It was therefore no surprise that the General Managers at their annual meeting brought up the subject of coaches safety. After several discussions the General Managers made a recommendation to have all coaches wear some form of protective headgear while coaching first and third base. The exact type of protection and the rules associated with enforcing the rules will be revisited during the winter meetings in Nashville in early December.

I think this rule change is probably overdue. It doesn’t mean that wearing a helmet will eliminate all injuries that occur to a coach but it is a step in the right direction. I don’t think any organization wants to have to go through what Tulsa has had to endure. How do explain to a pregnant wife and two young children that they won’t see their father again because you did not require him to wear some sort of protective equipment while working for you? Hopefully the tragedy that occurred in Arkansas will result in a rule change that will eliminate this happening again.

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