Rockies first base coach Hill elects to wear helmet
For the first time in his short coaching career, Hill donned a helmet for the Padres-Rockies series.
"It just makes sense," he said Tuesday night.
The issue of coaches wearing helmets has been a hot topic in baseball since Coolbaugh was struck and killed by a line drive Sunday night at North Little Rock, Ark., while coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers, the Rockies' Double-A affiliate.
A former major league infielder, Coolbaugh was a superb athlete with great reflexes but he couldn't get out of harm's way.
Nobody can see when the balls are smoked right at you, traveling at better than 100 mph, Hill said.
Coaching the bases for the first time this season after spending three years as a minor league hitting instructor and Class-A manager following his 13-year major league career, Hill was struck in his left elbow by a foul ball during spring training.
"I'll never forget it," Hill said. "There was nothing I could have done."
As a player, Hill hit some balls that whizzed past the pitcher's heads so fast they didn't have time to react. "I was thankful they didn't hit them because they didn't move," Hill said. "They didn't move their glove."
Still, it wasn't until Coolbaugh's death that he decided to don a helmet.
"I had thought about it but didn't want to put it into play," Hill said. "Then, I heard about Mike and it brought a lot of emotions, for his family, his children, safety, how many close calls I've had. It just makes sense."
Hill said he always appreciates it when batters reach first base and hand over their body armor: "I strap the stuff on."
So does Minnesota Twins first base coach Jerry White.
"You know the guys' shin guards? I'll always keep it even though the bat boy will come out there and grab it. I'll give him the gloves but I always hold on to the shin guard and put it up here [in front of his face]," White said.
"Maybe I should think about getting me a helmet."
Hill echoed a sentiment expressed by many players, coaches and managers around the league who said their greater concern was for the fans, especially kids, who sit so close to the action.
"I have warned parents to pay attention to their kids several times," Hill said.
He said there's been countless times that he's been coaching first and hears the smack of the bat on the ball and never sees it. "The first baseman will ask, did you see that ball? I didn't," Hill said.
"It's pretty dangerous," Hill said. "And it's not a good feeling."
So, Hill's wearing a helmet, something New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said every base coach in baseball should be doing now.
"I don't think there's any question. A lot of times coaches scare you, because some of them won't even watch the hitter, because they're trying to help the runner. So I don't think that's a bad idea at all," Torre said. "In fact, I think it's a pretty good idea for security people who have to watch the stands instead of the field."
Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell agreed: "Unfortunately, it takes an incident like this to rethink what we do," he said. "We haven't had a lot of time to think about it. We shouldn't have to think about it very long, to be honest with you."
Detroit Tigers first base coach Andy Van Slyke said people in the stands are in greater danger of getting hit by a foul ball or a splintered, whirling bat than anybody on the field or in the dugouts.
And Hill said major league baseball should extend the netting that protects fans behind the plate down the foul lines, although "then fans will complain that they won't be able to get the foul balls and lean over the fence. But there's a reason there's a glass cage in hockey, there is."
Still, several base coaches, including Billy Hatcher of the Cincinnati Reds and Brian Butterfiled of the Toronto Blue Jays, are opposed to wearing helmets, which don't protect much of the head anyway.
Detroit Tigers slugger Sean Casey wondered if there was anything, really, that could be done to prevent another tragedy.
"You always think about when a guy like Gary Sheffield comes up and [Tigers third base coach] Gene Lamont is sitting in the box over there," Casey said. "At any time, Sheff could hit a ball that no one could react to, and what do you do? You're almost a sitting duck. I know when I'm at third base and he's up and I'm coming off [the bag], it's scary."
Lamont, though, doesn't think helmets are the answer.
"If you're going to do that, you're going to need to offer helmets to all the fans that come in," he said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press