standing now, praying for Coolbaugh to be O.K. He also begged God, Please don't
do this to me. Then he heard someone near Coolbaugh say, "Don't go, Mike!
The ambulance took
him. Though Coolbaugh still had a pulse when he arrived at Baptist Health
Medical Center, doctors determined that his life ended at the moment of impact.
"He may have heard the crack of the bat, but that's it," Malcolm says.
"I think he had no knowledge."
Cole received the
news soon after in his office but didn't inform the players until a good 90
minutes later, after he'd been to the hospital and back. In the meantime
Sanchez buttonholed everyone he could, asking if they'd heard anything. When
the manager finally announced that Coolbaugh was dead, Sanchez started
flailing. "I think I fractured my hand here," he says, pointing to the
bottom of his right hand, "because I couldn't control it; I started
punching everything. I hit the floor. I walked away and I went down, because I
couldn't stop myself. I went down."
The phone rang in
the Coolbaugh house in San Antonio around 9:15 p.m. Mandy had friends over to
watch a movie, and when she saw it was Mike's cellphone, she answered quite
appropriately for a pregnant woman whose mile-a-minute boys were finally down
for the night. "Mike, you know I have people over here," she said
instead of hello. "What do you want?"
The instant she
heard the voice of Drillers trainer Austin O'Shea, Mandy knew the news was bad.
Mike called himself whenever he got hurt. O'Shea told her only that Mike was at
the hospital. He didn't want some insensitive MD telling her out of the blue
that her husband was already dead. "You need to come up here," O'Shea
But a doctor
phoned before she left for Little Rock. For Mandy the rest of the night was a
blur. She got up early and saw that reports of Mike's death were on TV; the
first camera crew came to her door at 7 a.m. Mandy knew she had to tell the
boys quickly. When they woke up, she and Mike's mother sat in their bedroom,
with the baseballs listing their birth weight and height, and their dad's
Milwaukee and St. Louis jerseys on the wall. Mandy told them Daddy was hit by a
ball, and God took him to heaven. "Well, if Daddy's up in heaven now, can I
play with his bats?" Joey asked.
Mandy Coolbaugh is
still irked by the way she answered the phone that night. But it's just like
baseball to leave her with regret on top of grief. "This game will step on
your neck and keep stepping on it," Burke says. "But something like
this is almost too much to take."
TINO SANCHEZ kept
sinking. There was a five-hour bus ride back to Tulsa, a tearful team meeting
the next day, a night of torment in his apartment. He didn't sleep. He turned
off his cellphone. Everyone kept repeating that it wasn't his fault.
"People don't understand," Sanchez says. "They're still telling me
that it was an accident, and that's been very supportive. But whether it was my
fault or not, literally I killed a human being."
He would stare
off, having clear flashbacks of his lunch with Coolbaugh, of looking to the
coach for reassurance during his next-to-last at bat—every image from the
moment they met to when the ambulance rolled away. Too many thoughts:
Coolbaugh's family.His sons. His wife, his wife, his wife. Guilt engulfed
Sanchez those first 48 hours. He felt as if he were drowning. "Mike is
dragging me," he told a friend. "He's taking me with him."
The Rockies sent
him home to Yauco. Sanchez began to calm, to sleep. He decided to go back to
the Drillers because he felt he owed the organization and his teammates for
standing by him, because he wanted to honor baseball and Coolbaugh. When he
rejoined the team in Frisco, he almost felt ready.