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Rockies first base coach Hill elects to wear helmet

7/25/2007 - MLB Colorado Rockies

DENVER -- Colorado Rockies first-base coach Glenallen Hill
isn't taking any chances following the death of Mike Coolbaugh from
a line drive in a minor league game.

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.