The University of Oklahoma baseball program prides itself on its illustrious tradition. The Sooners have made 36 postseason appearances, 10 College World Series, winning two in 1951 and 1994. That tradition extends into the professional ranks from the minor leagues through Major League Baseball. Many Sooners on the 2014 roster come from strong baseball lineages, with family members who have helped shape their ascent to the college level.
Twelve Sooners on the 2014 roster come from backgrounds where at least one member of their family played baseball at the professional or collegiate level to some degree.
Redshirt-freshman infielder Tyler Coolbaugh’s father Scott spent parts of four seasons in the majors for the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals. A third baseman in his playing days, Scott soon moved on to coaching is currently a hitting instructor in the Texas Rangers farm system, most recently with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks.
“It’s pretty special,” Coolbaugh said of coming from a baseball family. “You get to be around the game with a bunch of big leaguers. You get to see how they work every day and see what it takes to make it to that level. I’ve been around it ever since I was little and it has been a special opportunity.
“[My dad] has been a huge influence. I can go to him anytime I need to, be it baseball or real world. He’s just helped me so much baseball wise with the connections he has and all of his knowledge in hitting and fielding. He has helped me become who I am.”
Coolbaugh’s uncle Mike earned a major league call-up by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001, during his 11th professional season at the age of 29. He later appeared in five games for the St. Louis Cardinals before continuing his career in the minors through 2006.
“Unbelievable worker,” continued Coolbaugh. “[Mike] was known as the grinder. He went out there every day and worked hard. Did all of the extra things. Unfortunately, he didn’t have as many opportunities to make it to the big leagues because he was stuck behind some pretty good talent at third base, but it says a lot about his character to keep pushing and striving to make the big leagues with every organization he was with.”
Mike’s life was tragically cut short in July 2007. While coaching first base for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, he was struck by a line drive. As a result, Major League Baseball general managers decided that all base coaches would wear helmets on the field. In 2008, Minor League Baseball began presenting the Mike Coolbaugh Award for a player who has shown an outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players.
Freshman first basemen Austin O’Brien is trying to follow a successful generation of baseball players that includes his father John and uncle Charlie. John finished his collegiate career as the all-time home runs leader at Oral Roberts in Tulsa. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 1991 and went on to play three seasons in their system before moving to independent ball. In 11 total professional seasons, John belted 233 home runs, including 39 with 104 RBI at age 30 in 1999 for the Alexandria Aces of the Texas-Louisiana League.
O’Brien’s uncle Charlie has the most experience in the Major Leagues out of any current Sooner family member. Charlie played 15 seasons in the majors with eight different clubs, which included winning the 1995 World Series with the Atlanta Braves.
“My uncle has been a great role model for me. He helps me with my swing if I’m ever struggling. The first baseball game I ever went to was when he played in the World Series with the Braves. He and my dad have played a major role in me being where I’m at today as a baseball player,” O’Brien said.
Sophomore outfielder Hunter Haley watched his brother Trey forgo playing baseball in college, as Trey was selected in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians. Hunter hopes to follow his brother’s path through professional baseball, but looks to create his own avenue through the college ranks first.
“I wanted to be able to craft my skill more, and I wanted to be able to get better at my game,” Haley said. “I didn’t feel like I was quite ready to start playing professionally.”
Despite being drafted almost six years ago, Trey has yet to make it to the majors, and has only gotten as far as Double-A. Trey spent 2013 with the Akron Aeros, now known as the RubberDucks, of the Eastern League and was a part of the Cleveland Indians 40-man roster until last December when he was designated for assignment; clearing room for free agent signees.
When asked if his brother could do it over again, would he have decided to go to college, Hunter responded, “I don’t think so. I think he still would have gone pro. He likes the situation he’s in and enjoys what he’s doing.”
Coolbaugh, O’Brien, Haley and their teammates that share a passion for baseball with family members have been driven by a love for the game instilled in them by generations past and present to strive for the ultimate successes that can be achieved in their sport. The dream of becoming the next generation to reach professional baseball is what brought them to the University of Oklahoma.
All-time, 64 former Sooners have played Major League Baseball with Chase Anderson being recently called up by the Arizona Diamondbacks and awaiting his debut. There have been 66 draft picks from Oklahoma in the last 10 years, including six in 2013 and three first round selections over that stretch.
Thanks to the talent, youth and baseball pedigree on the roster, the future looks bright for the Sooners and perhaps the pros.