Adults on own for youth ball
The bat clinked, the ball whizzed and Al Morello stepped from behind home plate to see the parent who was coaching first base fall.
“He took it right in the ribs,” said Morello, 65, a youth league umpire in his 25th year. “Knocked him over. If that would have been in the head. We would have had another story.”
Morello was umpiring 12-year-olds at the Cal Ripken League Southwest Regional on July 13 in Grant, Okla. — 250 miles from the Junior Deputy ballpark in Little Rock where he has umpired for over a decade.
Morello said he remembers how parents were more careful in the months after Tulsa Drillers coach Mike Coolbaugh’s death, after getting hit with a line drive 10 years ago.
But since then, he still struggles with coaches who won’t follow the league’s rule of wearing a mask while they play catch to warm up their pitchers.
Base coaches within and outside the Cal Ripken age level, which is an extension of the Babe Ruth youth league, aren’t required to wear protective head gear.
“I’d like to see them all wear helmets,” Morello said. “Maybe if a parent sees it as their husband coaching, I think the higher-ups would be more agreeable.”
Mike Coolbaugh’s widow, Mandy Coolbaugh, whose 13-year-old son, Jacob, played in the Little League World Series, has discussed with the league’s panel about a rule that would require parents to wear helmets when they coach the bases. The league is separate from the Babe Ruth league, and as of today, no such rule is in place in either league.
“You have 13-year-olds playing with shortened base paths, with dads out there,” Mandy Coolbaugh said. “Why wouldn’t you protect them when there’s so much research that you could protect them?”
Mandy Coolbaugh’s eldest son, Joey, 15, will start playing high school baseball in San Antonio.
The National Federation of State High School Association, which administers sports regulations to all American high schools, requires that athletes must wear helmets when they coach bases. But there is no rule in place for coaches to wear one.
“I think there’s been some discussion about it,” said Bob Gardner, the association’s executive director. “To this point, we have not had any incidents that are anything like what happened in the Tulsa game. Coaches have not felt the urge to have that rule passed. … We feel a stronger responsibility to protect the youth, the student athlete. We recognize adults have a heightened awareness of safety. We just don’t require it of them.”