As a writer who seems to specialize in the "xoxo" of the game, I often set out on a journalistic journey of sorts when I put words to paper. Although my intention is a good one, the motive often becomes a concentrated effort to elicit a certain response.
I'm not sure if it is a gift or simply the willingness to open up my heart, but more often than not, my goal is to make my audience feel the sorrow associated with an event. To warm the heart by moistening the heart. To make my readers feel the pain that the participants in the story felt themselves and to relate it to their own life.
And then sometimes, the story is so incredibly sad all on it's own, that I don't need to say a word. I simply need to recount the events and let the reader feel on their own.
Mike Coolbaugh was a career minor league baseball player who played nearly 1700 minor league baseball games, rode countless hours in the back of countless buses to nowhere and spent countless hours away from his wife and kids. Over the course of those 1700 games, Coolbaugh got an extraordinary number of hits and fielded an infinite number of ground balls from his position at third base.
As a minor leaguer, Coolbaugh's numbers are almost staggering. 6071 at bats, 1615 hits, 928 runs scored, 398 doubles, 258 home runs and 1007 runs batted in.
All in hopes of making it to the Bigs. And he did.
After all that effort, Mike Coolbaugh had a cup of coffee with the big boys. Though his statistics weren't off the charts, Mike Coolbaugh knew that forever more, he'd be able to tell his kids that he played in the major leagues.
Current Los Angeles Dodger manager Joe Torre described Coolbaugh in the following way: "He'd do anything to make the club. He's a guy who if you asked to catch, he'd say yes. A lifer, basically. He just wanted to stay in the game because he had that personality.”
Coolbaugh amassed 82 at bats in 44 games over the 2000 and 2001 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. During that stretch, he barely entered the hit parade, reaching base only 21 times on 15 hits and six walks.
After five more years in the minor leagues, Coolbaugh decided to call it a career in 2006 and became a coach midway through the 2007 season.
Over the next six seasons, Coolbaugh coached nearly 1000 more games, took about the same number of bus rides and spent too many nights away from his two sons and his wife Mandy, who would soon be expecting their third child.
I suspect that on the morning of July 22, 2007, Coolbaugh called his family from the road, asked them about their day, gave Mandy a figurative kiss on the tummy and headed for the park, following much the same routine he had for the past 2700 games.
It wasn't until Coolbaugh took a line drive to the head from his coaches box position while coaching for the Tulsa Drillers that the routine changed.
Mike Coolbaugh was killed instantly.
Two years have passed since Mike Coolbaugh's death and he has become more well known and more appreciated in his passing then he was ever known during his playing and coaching career. Today, baseball coaches of all levels are required to wear protective helmets when coaching on the field as a result of Mike Coolbaugh's tragic passing.
The story of life in the Coolbaugh home since Mike's passing has been eloquently retold in a special piece that his widow Mandy wrote for MLB.com. I urge you to read it.
Well there. I've elicited that response I warned you about and am going to bring this story to a close.
This time, however, I elicited the response in myself. RIP Mike Coolbaugh. Your family in and out of baseball, really misses you.
On November 7th, 2009 at the Tapatio Springs Golf Resort in Boerne, TX, the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Golf Tournament will be held to raise money for the Coolbaugh Family, as well as, to raise funds to start a baseball clinic for children from San Antonio who have also lost a family member.
Additionally, Mandy Coolbaugh hopes to promote safer conditions for baseball players, coaches and fans at all levels.
Please visit http://www.coolbaughmemorial.com/ to learn more about the event and how to participate.
If you're not a golfer or won't be in the vicinity of Boerne, TX on the day of the event, you can still participate by donating to the Mike Coolbaugh fund or by donating sports memorabilia for the auction that will follow the event.
Visit the site to donate to the auction or to sponsor a portion of the event. Auction items can be sent to the following address: Cheryl Coolbaugh, 11844 Bandera Rd. #447, Helotes, TX 78023-4132.
Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report, Seamheads, and Boston Sports Then and Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children's story that teaches paying it forward through baseball.