Like many youngsters growing up in America, Mike Coolbaugh dreamed of playing Major League Baseball. That dream moved closer to becoming a reality when Coolbaugh was selected in the 16th round of the 1990 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Mike’s older brother, Scott, had already made it to the big leagues the previous season with the Texas Rangers. The pride of Theodore Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, the Coolbaughs were set to make their mark on America’s pastime.
The call to the big leagues would not come as quickly for the younger of the Coolbaugh brothers. Mike would spend eleven seasons in the minors before finally realizing his dream with the Milwaukee Brewers in July of 2001. Over two seasons Mike would appear in 44 big league games with Milwaukee and St. Louis before being sent back to the minors.
Determined to make it back to the majors, Mike kept working to improve his game even when it seemed like teams were no longer interested in his services. After spending part of the 2003 season playing in Korea, Mike returned to the states to join the Astros organization. Coolbaugh put together a couple of outstanding AAA seasons in ’04 and ’05, hitting a total of 57 homers, driving in 187 runs, and slugging at well over a .500 clip. Unfortunately, for Mike, the Astros big league roster was stacked at the time and the team decided to cut him loose.
Coolbaugh would sign a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals and spend the 2006 season with their AAA club before calling it a career. Coolbaugh went out having hit 258 homeruns and driving in more than 1,000 runs in 17 minor league seasons. He had also played every position on the diamond.
Even though his career as a player was over Mike Coolbaugh still had plenty to give to the game of baseball. In the minors, Mike often found himself mentoring young players and seemed to have a knack for it. He was well-respected by his younger teammates and coaching seemed like a natural progression for Mike. In 2007 he embarked upon a second career in the game he loved, taking a job as a coach in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mike was assigned to the AA Tulsa Drillers of the Texas League and one of his duties was that of first base coach. On July 22, 2007, while coaching in a game against Arkansas, Mike was struck in the neck by a batted ball and killed instantly. He was 35-years old.
Mike Coolbaugh’s tragic death sent shock waves through the baseball world. A rule would be implemented prior to the start of the 2008 season requiring base coaches to wear protective headgear.
At the time of his death Mike’s wife, Mandy, was expecting their third child. The Rockies and MLB did what they could to help out in the Coolbaugh family’s most difficult time. Mandy was awarded a full playoff share by the team when they made it to the World Series that season. Anne Michael was born a month later.
Scott Coolbaugh and his wife Susan were inspired to do more to honor Mike’s memory and commemorate his passion for helping others. Scott and Susan formed Diamond Dreams, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting safety in the sport of baseball and helping members of the baseball community in times of need.
The Coolbaughs, along with fellow board members James Vilade and Jack Price, donate their time and energy to the foundation and its efforts to this day. Mr. Vilade is a long time friend who has coached alongside Scott in the Rangers organization. Mr. Price stepped up by volunteering to build the foundation’s website and has been instrumental in promoting the cause ever since.
Diamond Dreams recently completed a project in Grapevine Texas that Mike would have been especially proud of, constructing the Grapevine Hack Shack at Grapevine High School. The facility provides a safe practice area for members of the Grapevine baseball team to utilize on a year-round basis.
Only a few months before Mike’s tragic accident, Grapevine lost one of their own in a similar manner. Chris Gavora, a junior on the GHS team, passed away two days after being struck in the head by a batted ball during batting practice.
The new facility built by Diamond Dreams includes state-of-the-art safety features and can be transformed from several individual batting cages into one large open practice area.
The latest endeavor by the Mike Coolbaugh Diamond Dreams Foundation is a charity golf tournament to benefit Coach Paul Gibson. Friday’s tournament at Fort Worth’s Golf Club at the Resort will raise funds to assist the L.D.Bell High School coach who is battling a rare blood disease.
Gibson, 48, was diagnosed with amyloidosis earlier this year and is undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Space in the tournament is still available for as little as a $125 donation. Golfers of all skill levels are encouraged to come out and play for a worthy cause. You can sign up by clicking on the page below.
Mike Coolbaugh left his mark on the game of baseball, especially in the minor leagues where the ideals of family and community far outweigh the glitz and glamor of the majors. In 2008 an award was named in his honor and has since been presented annually to the MiLB figure who has shown an “outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field.”
Cleveland Indians Advisor to Player Development Johnny Goryl was recently announced as the 2012 recipient of the Mike Coolbaugh Award. The presentation will be made on December 6 at a banquet during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville. Goryl has spent the last 31 seasons in the Indians organization as a coach, executive, coordinator, and advisor. Goryl, who began his player career in 1951 in the Boston Braves organization, joins Bobby Jones (2008), Charlie Montoyo (2009), Woody Huyke (2010), and Mike Jirschele (2011) as winners of the prestigious award.