On July 22, 2007, Coolbaugh, a 35-year-old husband and father of three, was struck and killed by a foul ball while coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers. The inaugural Coolbaugh Memorial Golf Tournament was held that November, establishing a tradition that shows no signs of slowing down.
This year's tourney took place this past Saturday at Tapatio Springs Golf Resort in Boerne, Texas. Nearly 150 family members, friends, former teammates and fans attended the event, which serves two equally important purposes: to keep Coolbaugh's memory alive and raise money for the family he left behind.
"Saturday was the most beautiful day we've had in a long time, the temperature was in the upper 70s and there was a nice breeze," said Mandy Coolbaugh, Mike's widow. "Mike loved to be outdoors, and we knew it was just his day. We had 25 golf foursomes, and an additional 40 people who came out for the dinner afterward."
Mike Coolbaugh played baseball professionally for 16 seasons and made innumerable friends along the way. Former teammates at the tournament included Chad Fox, Boone Logan, Kerry Robinson, Brandon Knight and Brooks Kieschnick.
"It was a good day for funny stories, even if it meant you had to wipe away a tear," said Mandy. "It's a day to remember and celebrate life, because there is never a guarantee that there will be a tomorrow."
The tournament dinner was paid for by none other than Albert Pujols, who was a teammate of Coolbaugh's on the 2002 St. Louis Cardinals. The recent Roberto Clemente Award-winner contributed the money after the dinner's original sponsors dropped out at the last minute.
"The running joke of the evening was that 'Albert Pujols bought me dinner,'" said Mandy. "I think everyone enjoyed that connection, and it was a reminder that we can't do this without the unbelievable support we've gotten from those within the game of baseball. ... It's an opportunity to show people that that this is what baseball is, this is the true character of the sport."
The support of baseball, as well as the entire professional sports community, was on full display during the evening's charitable auction. Memorabilia from all four major sports was included, but the highlight was the package put together by the Tampa Bay Rays -- an all-expenses paid trip to Tropicana Field, including the opportunity to throw out the game's first pitch and meet the players. In addition, the package included an adventure kayaking trip and deep sea fishing excursion.
The money raised on Saturday will benefit the family Coolbaugh left behind -- sons Joey, 7, and Jacob, 6, posed proudly beside a framed jersey of their father during the event. At the time of Mike's passing, Mandy was expecting a third child -- daughter Anne, who is now 2. In addition, Mandy plans to donate a portion of the proceeds to local bereavement centers so that those who have been placed in similar situations may also benefit.
"We need to start looking forward and use the tournament as a way for us, in turn, to start giving," said Mandy.
This proactive approach should help ensure that the Coolbaugh Memorial Tournament remains a vibrant, ever-growing annual event.
"When people don't show up, that's when we'll know that [the Tournament] should come to an end," said Mandy. "But that's what we love about this, everyone walks away saying 'Let's do this again.' It's a wonderful experience, and I'm already excited about next year."