It is unfortunate, but all too often it takes a tragedy for us to reevaluate how safe we are, especially in sports. Just seven years ago the first and third base coaches on baseball fields simply wore a ball cap when coaching, but today it is simply accepted that all coaches on the field wear a protective helmet.
This came to be after a tragedy on July 22, 2007, when Mike Coolbaugh was coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers and was stuck by a line drive leading to his untimely death. Now, given where he was struck by the line drive, a helmet may not have saved Coolbaugh that day, but the changes made in the game since just might save the lives and prevent serious injuries to countless coaches moving forward.
A charitable organization was also founded after Coolbaugh’s death, Diamond Dreams. Per the organizations website, “Diamond Dreams is a non-profit organization that honors the memory of Mike Coolbaugh by promoting safety in the game of baseball and providing support to members of the baseball community in need.”
The organization has a four person board of directors, Scott and Susan Coolbaugh, Jack Price, and James Vilade.Vilade is a coach for the Frisco Roughriders as well as an area scout for the Texas Rangers and I had the pleasure of speaking with Vilade today about Diamond Dreams and Mike Coolbaugh Day.
Diamond Dreams is focused on the safety of the game, even in spots most wouldn’t think to focus on. In addition to batting helmets and safety equipment, they have helped ensure netting in the batting cages at local high schools are without holes.
On a personal note, helping repair and replace netting around batting cages is an often overlooked aspect of safety on a field. I remember when I played in high school, in a typical suburban town, we would walk around the batting cages before practice each day with a handful of zip-ties to repair any holes we could find, and there were still too many close calls standing around the cages than I care to admit.
The first major cause Diamond Dreams helped with was for a high school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Grapevine High, where they lost a ballplayer that same year Mike Coolbaugh lost his life. “In February 2007, the Grapevine High School baseball community experienced an unthinkable tragedy when junior baseball player Chris Gavora was struck by a batted ball in a batting cage during pregame warmups. Two days after the accident, Chris passed away from the injuries he sustained.”
Diamond Dreams helped put in a $300,000 hitting facility to make sure all future ballplayers at Grapevine High, and many other schools, don’t have to worry about whether or not they will make it home after playing the game they love.
They also provide scholarships and financial support to players affected by personal tragedies.
Minor League Baseball has also created the Mike Coolbaugh Award which “is presented to an individual who has shown an outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field.”
This week, in every ballpark in the Texas League, they will be hosting Mike Coolbaugh Day. The first event was held in Tulsa on Saturday, where a sold out crowd saw ballplayers, coaches, umpires, stadium staff, and even some fans wearing wristbands in honor of Mike Coolbaugh.
The GM of each team will give one person the honor of throwing out the first pitch and dubbed a “Keeper of the Game”, which is a person who shows they “treasure and perpetuate the qualities of the game that exemplify Mike Coolbaugh’s dedication and value.”
Before each game, they also show a two minute video tribute to Coolbaugh, which perfectly describes Diamond Dreams and the memory of Mike Coolbaugh.