Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America [NOOK Book]


From the author of Pitching Around Fidel and Far Afield comes an account of the accidental death of minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh, illustrating the many ways in which baseball still has a hold on America.

Heart of the Game centers on the death of Mike Coolbaugh, a minor league coach who was killed on a sweltering Sunday evening in Little Rock in July 2007 when a foul ball rocketed off Tino Sanchez's bat. Coolbaugh died almost instantly, his body carted off the ...

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Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America

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From the author of Pitching Around Fidel and Far Afield comes an account of the accidental death of minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh, illustrating the many ways in which baseball still has a hold on America.

Heart of the Game centers on the death of Mike Coolbaugh, a minor league coach who was killed on a sweltering Sunday evening in Little Rock in July 2007 when a foul ball rocketed off Tino Sanchez's bat. Coolbaugh died almost instantly, his body carted off the field of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. He was thirty-five years old and the father of two; a third child was on the way.

Mike's exemplary life—his devotion to the game and to his family—is the spine of the story. But it isn't the drama. The drama is in the telling of what can happen when a projectile hits the human body, of the narratives of the remarkable people who happened to be in the ballpark at that fatal moment, of the impact of Coolbaugh's death on the man who hit the ball, and of all the lives left behind.

Price reveals anew that classic heart of Americana—small-town sports, small-town lives—and makes us understand that a game played away from the mindless churn of Internet blather and highlight shows can be more important than those played on the national stage.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

On July 22, 2007, minor league baseball player Tino Sanchez Jr. hit a foul ball that struck his team's recently hired first base coach, Mike Coolbaugh, at the precise point on the back of his neck to cut off blood to his brain, killing him instantly. Price (Far Afield) builds upon the article he wrote for Sports Illustrated to flesh out the lives of Sanchez and Coolbaugh, two "lifers" who devoted everything to the sport and got only fleeting glimpses of the major leagues in return. Price leans a bit too hard on the melodrama at first, but this story doesn't need a hard sell. As he gets into the ordinary, working-class struggles of his two subjects, the men become real, vibrant personalities-and the tragedy, when it finally comes, takes on all too human dimensions; Sanchez's despair over the accident is as heartbreaking to read about as the anguish of Coolbaugh's family. Price isn't the first to argue that minor league baseball, bracketed off from the glitz and scandals of the big leagues, is where the game's true emotional core can be found. But he's found a story that makes a powerful case for that argument. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The life and death of 35-year-old Mike Coolbaugh, who was instantly killed by a line drive while coaching first base in a minor-league game in Little Rock, Ark., on July 22, 2007. Sports Illustrated senior writer Price (Far Afield: A Sportswriting Odyssey, 2007, etc.) structures the narrative to achieve maximum emotional impact. He first sketches that fatal moment, then retreats for 200 pages to summarize the lives of the principals before returning to Little Rock. This strategy stretches the dramatic irony-every word, deed and moment in the lives of Coolbaugh and those around him acquires deep poignancy-but threatens to sidetrack the story into sentimentality and mawkishness. But Price, a seasoned sportswriter, mostly avoids such dangers. Although Coolbaugh spent 17 years in the minor leagues-and had some outstanding seasons-he never got, writes Price, a "clean shot" at the majors. Things just happened: untimely injuries, more gifted players ahead of him on the depth charts. Price also relates the stories of the Coolbaugh family (brother Scott also played and coached pro ball), his marriage, his young children, other serious injuries and fatalities in baseball history and, most affectingly, of Tino Sanchez, the player who hit the killer liner and who has never really recovered, despite the overtures and good wishes of the Coolbaughs. Sanchez retired from professional baseball and returned to his native Puerto Rico. Price ably highlights all the cruel ironies, coincidences and improbabilities of the moment-the ball hit Coolbaugh in the most vulnerable square inch of the back of his skull. The author also coaxes everyone into speaking frankly-Coolbaugh's wife believes that God must havewanted her husband-and demonstrates how the tragedy brought out the best in people. A graceful account of how quickly the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd can dissipate into silence and tears. Agent: Andrew Blauner/Blauner Books Literary Agency
“S.L. Price’s work, “Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America” is more than just another baseball book being released. It’s a legacy, an heirloom that can be handed from a father no longer here to his children.”
Boston Globe
“[V]eteran Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price weaves his magic. Genuine and raw, Heart of the Game is a heartfelt work of despair, triumph, and redemption.”
Trenton NJ Times
“Price brilliantly takes the reader through life in the minors, and as such it is also a portrait of small-town America. . . . Heart of the Game is a piece of literary excellence.”
Chicago Tribune
“A superb storyteller. . . . S. L. Price has done a masterful job.”
San Antonio Express-News
“S.L. Price has become a powerful force in giving readers a front-row seat to the spectacular. Through his unique gifts of observation and prose, the veteran journalist has painted compelling portraits of the special people, places and moments that define the games we play and watch.”
Richard Ben Cramer
“It’s a story of hard luck in a hard game but, in the lives of two minor leaguers, Scott Price reveals the code of baseball. This is one of the baseball books that will endure as long as the game is played.”
Robert Lipsyte
“Hear the heartbeat of America and feel its breath in this beautifully-told tale of love, fate, and forgiveness. The best sports book I’ve read in many seasons.”
Darryl Strawberry
“I was reminded, as I read HEART OF THE GAME, what baseball has meant to me. The story of Mike Coolbaugh’s life and death will break your heart – and you won’t ever look at the game in quite the same way.”
Dave Barry
“[A] superbly written book . . . a story that’s both heartbreaking and uplifting, much like baseball itself.”
Stan Hochman
“The best baseball book I have ever read...Dazzling...a welcome antidote to the poisonous steroid sleaze that hogs the headlines and crams the bookshelves...If you read only one baseball book this year, make it ‘Heart of the Game.’”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061915918
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 265,671
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

S. L. Price, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated since 1994, has written two other books—Pitching Around Fidel, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Far Afield, which Esquire named one of the top five books of 2007. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his family.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 8, 2010

    Heart of the Game

    This is a book about a minor league baseball player trying to get to the major league. It tells about all the bad luck that Mike Coolbaugh had trying to make that happen. When it looked like his luck was beginning to change. He was coaching at 1st base for the Tulsa Drillers at a game in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of the players named Tino Sanchez fouled off a baseball and it struck Mike Coolbaugh in the head. He died later that night at a Little Rock hospital. This not only affected the Coolbaugh family but it also affected Tino Sanchez who quit playing baseabll after that unfortunate accident;

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  • Posted November 12, 2009

    Minor League Life

    Never having been to a minor league game, this was a perfect opportunity to be a fly on the wall of the real lives of minor league players.

    It is disconcerting to see that the road to the majors is not just a path of good statistics and hard work but one of being a predesignated "prospect."

    Now when I watch a Jacoby Ellsbury or a Dustin Pedroia come up from the minors I'll understand that the path is not always what it seems.

    The author digs deep into the annals of baseball history to give the reader perspective on the dangers of taking a ball to the head, what a minor league ball park is really like and how really frustrating it is for minor league players to reach the "bigs."

    I think this is a great read for baseball fans and non fans alike.

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  • Posted September 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Bittersweet and Uplifting

    I purchased this book to read while on vacation, and could not put it down. As a baseball fan, I remember the day ESPN broadcast the news of the Mike Coolbaugh tragedy. The writer takes the reader on a journey that follows the lives of two great friends and their families & friends changed forever in a tragic split second.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    A Tragic well written book.

    While not an avid baseball fan, I was quickly enthralled with the life of Coolbaugh and his dedication to baseball. My interest was somewhat peaked as my son in law spent 7 years in the minor leagues while trying to make it to the majors. I felt Coolbaugh's disappointments as each opportunity for advancement was lost. The well written book draws the reader into the daily struggle of the Coolbaugh family to continue the minor league lifestyle in hopes of getting to the big show someday. The tragic ending to Mr. Coolbaugh's life is heart rending and very emotional. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, baseball fan or not.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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