In July of 2007, Mike Coolbaugh, first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers, was struck in the head by a line drive and later died as a result of his injuries.
While Coolbaugh's death sent shockwaves throughout professional baseball, including the implementation of a new rule requiring major-league base coaches to wear helmets on the field, the aftermath of the incident has yet to reach the high school level. Lawrence coaches continue to take the field without extra protection.
The reasons for taking the risk vary, but all revolve around the idea that the Coolbaugh incident was a freak accident and that the odds of a similar incident happening again are low.
"We've all had to duck out of the way of a line drive before," said Lawrence High coach Brad Stoll. "I understand the spirit of the rule, but I don't think it's a necessity."
If Stoll had it his way, he'd eliminate coaching boxes altogether. That, he says, would give base coaches the freedom to stand as far away from the hitters as they want. Requiring them to remain in the boxes, which are located behind first and third base roughly 90 feet from home plate, only increases the likelihood of an accident, Stoll said.
Free State High baseball coach Mike Hill, who also serves as the school's athletic director, also said he understood the concern for safety, but wondered why the worrying stopped with coaches.
"Why doesn't the third baseman (wear a helmet)," Hill asked. "Why doesn't the shortstop do it or the pitcher do it? If we're genuinely concerned about it, why aren't we doing it everywhere?"
Hill's point seems valid considering base coaches stand in foul territory while infielders face far more hard-hit balls throughout the course of a game, but infielders at least are armed with gloves.
"I don't want to minimize the concern or speak lightly of the issue," Hill said. "But I don't see why we're just talking about coaches. There are four other guys in harm's way and one who stands 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate who typically isn't in a good position to protect himself."
Considering the historical context of baseball, it seems unlikely that infielders one day will wear batting helmets while playing defense. A handful of players, including former major-leaguer John Olerud, have worn hard plastic in favor of cotton caps. He did so because he had suffered from a brain aneurysm.
Major League Baseball, along with its minor-league affiliates - like the Tulsa Drillers, a farm team of the Colorado Rockies - have taken the first step by requiring base coaches to wear helmets. Reports have shown that most big-league base coaches are not in favor of the new rule, but all of them - even former manager Larry Bowa, who at first rejected the request vehemently - have followed the rules.
Hill and Stoll both believe that a rule requiring helmets will work its way into the high school rule books in the same way the rule against chewing tobacco started in the big leagues and eventually filtered down to the lower levels. Lawrence High athletic director Ron Commons agrees.
"It'll probably be a trickle-down thing where it'll start in the Majors, then make its way down to the collegiate level, and then make its way down to the high school ranks," Commons said.
The push to put batting helmets on base coaches isn't the first attempt at making the game safer. Coolbaugh's death inspired action.
In recent years, high school activities associations have continued to make safety a priority. Another common concern in baseball circles is the increased pop of aluminum bats. Last year the Kansas State High School Activities Association fielded a proposal to switch from aluminum to wood bats, but the proposal failed largely because of the financial burden wood bats would bring.
In addition, some states require facemasks on all batting helmets. Kansas is one, but the Sunflower State requires it only for softball players.
LHS softball coach Reenie Stogsdill is all for making the game safer, but she, too, does not see the need for base coaches to slap on batting helmets.
"I'm an adult, and if a ball comes my way, I'll get out of the way," Stogsdill said. "I'm not that slow yet. Besides, I didn't even wear a helmet when I played."