It was a typical game day for Boston Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn.
It was an early June afternoon last summer and the Red Sox were getting ready for their game later that night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Colbrunn had just gotten out of the shower and was headed down to the hotel’s lobby when he felt like someone had “kicked” him in the back of his head. It was a “thunderclap” headache that ran down the back of his neck and left him dizzy as he made his way to the elevator.
Colbrunn reached the lobby feeling disoriented and took a cab with a team trainer to Progressive Field.
He remembers getting to the Red Sox locker room and putting on his uniform.
His next memory is waking up in a hospital room at the Cleveland Clinic 2½ days later.
Colbrunn, who returned to the Lowcountry this spring as the Charleston RiverDogs hitting coach after two seasons with the Red Sox, suffered a brain hemorrhage that June afternoon. In medical terms it was a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the space between the brain and the surrounding membrane.
He’s lucky to be alive.
“I remember getting in the cab and getting to the field and going into the locker room,” said Colbrunn, who was with the RiverDogs for six seasons from 2007-2012 as a hitting coach and manager. “My neck starting to lock up and I was sweating and had this thunderclap headache, worst I’ve ever had. Thank God I was where I was and had the kind of people around me who knew what they were doing. People can die from this if they don’t get to a hospital in time.”
Colbrunn, 46, spent two weeks at the Cleveland Clinic before returning to his Mount Pleasant home. He spent two more weeks at home, watching Red Sox games on television, offering tips and advice from his living room couch to players and coaches back in Boston.
Some days were better than others.
“The doctors told me that the quicker I got back to my normal life, the better I’d feel and the quicker my recovery would go,” Colbrunn said. “Some days I’d feel really fatigued and I couldn’t concentrate, but after about a week I felt better.”
He returned to the Red Sox six weeks after the incident.
“It was great to be back with the team, the guys,” Colbrunn said. “The support I received from everyone, players, fans, other teams, was overwhelming. The Red Sox organization was great to me and my family throughout this whole process.”
Long before that June afternoon, Colbrunn had decided he wanted to return to the Lowcountry. He had been with the Red Sox for two seasons and had helped lead the club to a World Series title in 2013.
But he missed his family. He missed his three daughters – Danielle (16), Kelsey (13) and Vanessa (9) – who were quickly turning into young ladies.
“The Red Sox gave me an unbelievable opportunity and it was an experience of a lifetime,” Colbrunn said. “Winning a World Series and working with those players is something that I’ll always remember. At the end of the day, I wanted to be around my family more. I wanted to be here to watch my daughters grow up. This was a family decision.”
The New York Yankees jumped at the opportunity to get Colbrunn back in their minor league system.
“It’s the best of both worlds for me,” Colbrunn said. “I’m still coaching in the game that I love, working with great young players in a great organization, and I get to see my family a whole lot more. I’m still on the road, but it’s not like I’m gone for nine months like I was with Boston.”
During Colbrunn’s first season with the club, Boston was among the top hitting teams in the Major Leagues. Colbrunn said the difference between coaching established big league stars like — David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia — and players just beginning their professional baseball careers is about the approach to the game.
“When you’re coaching guys like David and Dustin is about preparation, scouting the pitchers, and keeping them in tune and what they need,” Colbrunn said.
“Those guys are big leaguers and they know how to hit. You are not so much in teaching mode. Down here in A ball, it’s more about setting a foundation and hopefully developing Major League hitters. You are trying to give them good work habits and establishing what it takes to get to the Major Leagues.”
Colbrunn said he’d like to return to the Major Leagues one day.
“In a few years when my daughters get a little older, if it’s the right opportunity then I’d definitely look into it,” Colbrunn said. “Right now, this is where I belong.”