Coolbaugh baseball legacy continues in Draft

Orioles select son of hitting coach in 36th round on Wednesday

June 15th, 2017
Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh saw his son, Tyler, drafted by his team on Wednesday. (AP)

CHICAGO -- Once baseball seeps into a family's bloodstream, it's there to stay. In the strongest of baseball families, it's passed down through generations, almost like another trait contained in a strain of DNA.

The Coolbaughs are one of those families.

When the Orioles selected Angelo State infielder Tyler Coolbaugh in the 2017 MLB Draft on Wednesday afternoon, he was with his father at Guaranteed Rate Field. He's the son of Baltimore hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, but also the nephew of the late Mike Coolbaugh, who was coaching first base for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers when a line drive hit him in the neck in 2007, killing him instantly.

Some families might be bitter at baseball after that tragedy, but not the Coolbaughs. They stick with the sport through thick and thin.

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"It's amazing,'' Scott Coolbaugh said. "I had an opportunity to play in the big leagues, and, obviously, my brother had an opportunity to play in the big leagues. Now to have another Coolbaugh have an opportunity to work his way through, if he can, it's special.''

When S.L. Price wrote his book about Mike Coolbaugh and Tino Sanchez (the man who hit the fatal foul liner), he called it "Heart of the Game.'' The title nailed the story, as the Coolbaughs are blue-collar workers who, like most of the players in professional baseball, pushed themselves hard to be good enough.

For every family like the Griffeys, Alous, Boones or Bells, there are hundreds like the Coolbaughs. All they want is a chance to play the game they love, which is why Tyler smiled broadly after being selected in the 36th round.

"I was hoping somebody was going to give me an opportunity,'' said Tyler, who hit .374 as a senior this season. "I'm really glad it was the Baltimore Orioles. … It's an opportunity to get my foot in the door, go out there and play and show what I can do.''

Scott Coolbaugh was a third-round pick of the Rangers in 1987, after a nice career at the University of Texas. Mike was drafted in the 16th round by the Blue Jays in 1990, out of Roosevelt High in San Antonio. They were driven by their father, Bob, who went to work to support his family, rather than pursue his own baseball career.

Scott reached the Major Leagues when he was 23; Mike when he was 29. Between them, they played in 2,937 professional games, but just 211 of those were under the bright lights at big league ballparks.

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Tyler was 13 in the summer of 2007, when his uncle was killed. Scott was working as a Minor League hitting instructor for the Rangers, gaining experience that would lead him to two seasons as a big league coach with Texas before he was hired to be the Orioles' hitting coach in 2014.

"I try to be around my dad as much as possible, be around the guys and see how it works on a regular basis,'' Tyler said. "I think that's very beneficial for me.''

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is excited for the Coolbaughs. He was delighted they were together on Wednesday, and won't be surprised if Tyler follows his father and uncle into the Major Leagues, hopefully with Baltimore.

"First of all, this is not some courtesy,'' Showalter said. "He earned it. He would have been drafted by somebody. I'm glad it was us. He works out with us some. He's impressive. He can play three of four infield positions, switch hit. He understands the game. He's going to be fun to have on somebody's club.''

Like all great baseball families, the Coolbaughs are about their women as well as their men. Showalter says Tyler's mom, Susan, is as unhappy as anyone when the Orioles aren't hitting, which has been the case lately.

"[She] can talk the talk, too,'' Showalter said. "I always chuckle. When we're not going well offensively, she'll ask Scott what's going on. She knows.''

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Tyler Coolbaugh will be the first from the family's second generation to play pro ball, but he may not be the last. Mike's two sons, Joey and Jacob, are passionate baseball players, too. Jacob's elite team from San Antonio reached the Little League World Series last summer.

Who knows how long this story may play out on baseball diamonds. Isn't that the way with all love affairs?

"After Mike died, Bob called baseball 'a curse on the Coolbaugh family,''' Price wrote in an email on Wednesday. "But the family stayed fully immersed and in love with the game that brought them so much pain, and handed it down to the next generation. It's their way of honoring Mike, I think, and a way to give a life cut terribly short some meaning and resonance, a decade after that terrible accident.

"Personally, I have to say that I've never met a tougher, compassionate, down-to-earth family. Baseball is fortunate to have them still."