SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Mike Coolbaugh became a coach with the Tulsa Drillers earlier this month not so much for the job itself, but because his little boys loved to see him on the baseball field.
“He had just started,” said Coolbaugh’s wife, Amanda, who is expecting their third child in October. “We were going to be done with it, but his kids wanted to see him.”
Coolbaugh, 35, died Sunday after being struck in the head by a line drive as he stood in the first-base coach’s box during a game in Arkansas.
Amanda Coolbaugh, 32, said they planned to wait to find out the baby’s sex until the birth.
The couple has two sons, Joseph, 5, and Jacob, 3.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better father,” Amanda Coolbaugh said through tears Monday in San Antonio.
“He just paid attention to the boys, put them in clubs and sports … volunteered time on their teams.”
The game between the Double-A Drillers and Arkansas Travelers was suspended in the ninth inning Sunday after Coolbaugh was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Tino Sanchez.
He was taken to Baptist Medical Center-North Little Rock, where he was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m.
The Drillers, a Colorado Rockies affiliate, said Monday night’s game against the Wichita Wranglers in Kansas was postponed. “Our entire organization grieves at the death of Mike Coolbaugh,” Rockies president Keli McGregor said. “We were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the accident on Sunday evening. Mike was a great husband, father, brother and friend to so many throughout the baseball community.”
According to a report on the Drillers’ Web site late Sunday, Coolbaugh was knocked unconscious and CPR was administered to him on the field.
Sgt. Terry Kuykendall, spokesman for North Little Rock police, said Coolbaugh stopped breathing as his ambulance arrived at the hospital.
The former major leaguer who played 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers over two seasons was remembered Monday as a generous man.
“He always said if he won the lotto, he would divide it up between every single person he knew,” said Amanda Coolbaugh, who met Mike on the first blind date for both. They had been married for seven years.
Coolbaugh was good with his hands, and built a changing table and crib for one of his sons. He also was taking college courses on nights and weekends to earn a business degree.
Mikaela Adams Rios, who graduated with Coolbaugh in 1990 from Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, said she was grateful to have seen the star high school athlete at a luau get-together with a few other classmates in late June.
“You could tell he cared about everyone,” said Rios, who had known Coolbaugh since kindergarten. “He gave hugs to everybody and wanted to talk about what they’d been doing. He was really kid-oriented. I was very impressed with how confident and secure he was as a father and husband and how much he loved his family. You could tell.”
The native of Binghamton, N.Y., was homecoming king, a star quarterback and also played baseball and basketball, Rios said.
“Everybody in high school liked him,” she said. “He was a little more reserved in high school. Very focused on sports. He was a really nice popular guy.”
Mark Worley, who hosted the June luau, said they talked briefly about his baseball career, “but it was definitely, ‘Let’s get the families together.”‘
Coolbaugh was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round in 1990.
He played third base and bounced around the minors for a decade before reaching the major leagues for the first time in 2001 with the Brewers. He played 39 big league games that season and five for the Cardinals in 2002. He hit two home runs in 82 major league at-bats.
Coolbaugh’s older brother, Scott, also played 167 major league games over parts of four seasons with Texas, San Diego and St. Louis in the early 1990s.
“Mike came from a baseball family, and he was a part of the baseball family,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “On behalf of all of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife Mandy, their children and all of their family and friends.”
The Drillers said Monday they had established a memorial fund for Coolbaugh’s family. Coolbaugh also played for the team briefly in 1996. The family said a friend also had set up a memorial fund in San Antonio.
“The Coolbaughs have been a big part of our organization, with both Mike and his brother Scott playing for us. I know that Mike was very excited to become a coach and to begin this new chapter in his baseball career,” Drillers president Chuck Lamson said in a statement. “Even in his short stint with us this year, he had provided a very positive influence on our club.”