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Grapevine High dedicates new indoor hitting facility

Fallen player, coach remembered in opening ceremony for community building

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The Grapevine High School Mustangs baseball team held tryouts on Saturday afternoon under the watchful eye of coach Tim McCune and his staff.

McCune is entering his 24th season as the Mustangs head coach, and his teams have been in the playoffs 17 times, including six as district champions. The Mustangs play in a well-maintained facility befitting their proud winning tradition.

Those who pass Saturday's tryouts and make the team will find that the facility has reached a new level of excellence. On Saturday, Grapevine High School, the Tenth Man Booster Club and Rangers hitting instructor Scott Coolbaugh's Diamond Dreams foundation dedicated a new indoor hitting facility.

The facility is dedicated to Scott's brother, Mike Coolbaugh, and former Grapevine player Chris Gavora. Both were killed within five months of each other in 2007 from injuries sustained by a batted baseball.

"This will be something that's just not a hitting facility," Coolbaugh said. "It's a memorial building that a community came together on to make something happen, a facility for kids to work out in an environment that's safe."

The girls softball team also will use the facility, which is located just beyond the right-field corner of the baseball field off of Highway 26. Senior baseball player Connor McGuire and softball player MacKenzie Hill participated in the first pitch ceremonies for the facility, where players can hit, pitch or just warm up.

"They've even practiced a little yoga training in the time the facility has been open," McCune said.

The Mustangs look for every possible advantage when going up against Tarrant County rivals Colleyville Heritage, Euless Trinity and L.D. Bell.

"This was a dream for us for many years and it's exciting to see it come to pass," Colleyville Mayor David Kelly said.

Gavora was a member of the Grapevine baseball team in 2007 when he was struck by a batted ball while warming up for a game. He died two days later and a memorial plaque to him previously was erected behind the first-base dugout.

"A phenomenal kid, just phenomenal," McCune said. "He had the foresight to decide at the age of 17 that if something happened to him, he was going to be a vital-organ donor. Five people received his organs and are alive and well today because of that sacrifice. Great kid, great family, it was just devastating to everybody in the community."

His parents were at the dedication ceremonies on Saturday, and Gavora's No. 17 is prominently displayed on the front of the building.

"I think I can speak for both families," said Chris' father, Bill Gavora. "As painful as those losses are for us, it's events like this that help ease that pain. One hope families like us have is that our loss won't be forgotten."

Mike Coolbaugh played 17 seasons of professional baseball from 1990-2006. He spent a brief time with the Brewers in 2001 and the Cardinals in 2002 but played mostly in the Minor Leagues. In 2007, he became a coach in the Rockies farm system at Double-A Tulsa. He was coaching first base during a game in North Little Rock, Ark., on July 22 when he was struck in the head by a line-drive foul ball. He was killed almost instantly.

As a result, base coaches at all levels are now required to wear helmets. The Mike Coolbaugh Award was established by Minor League Baseball and is given to someone who shows "outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field." Rangers Triple-A manager Bobby Jones was the first recipient in 2008.

"It's not a daily thing but obviously when baseball season comes around, it hits you a little harder," Scott Coolbaugh said. "Anytime you see his No. 29, it makes you think about him. I wish he could have been around for some of the accomplishments that I've enjoyed and some of the accomplishments that he would have enjoyed and been a part of. Things like this are a testament to who he was as a person."

Now Mike Coolbaugh's No. 29 is also prominently displayed on the facade of the "Hack Shack."

"It will be nice to drive through here and see No. 29 and know what it means to me," Coolbaugh said. "Not everybody will know, but for me it's a good memory."

Mike Coolbaugh Diamond Dreams was established by Scott and his wife, Susan, as a non-profit organization to promote safety in baseball and support baseball communities in need. Last November, the organization partnered in a golf tournament to benefit L.D. Bell baseball coach Paul Gibson, who was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

With the help of James Vilade and Jack Price, they teamed with the Tenth Man Booster Club and the Grapevine school district to get the facility built. It took six years of charity golf and bowling tournaments and other fund-raisers, but through the work of Tenth Man officers like Tracy Evatt, Rick Rawlings and others, the facility is finally ready.

"I want our athletes to appreciate what can happen when people come together like this and make something happen," McCune said.

The Grapevine-Colleyville area, with massive construction projects taking place everywhere on adjacent Northeast Tarrant County freeways, is accustomed to things taking time. But with the new hitting facility, the patience and determination paid off.

"This is not your average gymnasium," Evatt said. "It has a lot more meaning than that."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
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