A day after a line drive knocked him out cold in front of hundreds of horrified spectators, Tehachapi High School baseball coach Chris Olofson was awake and alert but still hospitalized in serious condition.
The popular coach was rushed to Kern Medical Center after he was struck in the head while standing in the third base coach's box during Tuesday's Division III playoff game against Highland High School. He was diagnosed with a fractured skull, facial fractures and swelling and bleeding in his brain.
Tehachapi Unified School District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert visited him at KMC Wednesday morning.
"He was coherent, but in pain," she said. "One of the first things he asked his fiancee when he talked to her was whether the team won, and he was upset about not being able to go to Fresno to see the next game."
Tehachapi did indeed win the game, 10-5.
Fiancee Nikki Quiroga couldn't be reached for comment, but the coach's family released a statement Wednesday.
"We would like to thank everyone for their overwhelming support. Coach is stable and resting. Doctors are confident that he will progress without surgery," the statement read. "He has been critically injured with a skull fracture, bleeding of the brain and some facial fractures.
"He is so thankful for the outreach of support not only from Warrior country but from many of the schools here in Bakersfield. Rivals or not, we are all brothers and sisters. Your prayers have kept him strong. He has a bit of a battle ahead but has so much faith and support, it has given him comfort. As his family, we would like to thank each and every one of you. The kind words, love and support for a man we love very much has been nothing short of amazing."
Olofson awoke after the head blow but was incoherent in the ambulance that took him to KMC Tuesday, said Tom Shea, who supplies The Californian with Tehachapi sports information.
The accident occurred in the bottom half of the game's fourth inning.
Olofson was not wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.
Helmets for first- and third-base coaches were made mandatory in professional baseball after a line drive killed Tulsa Travelers Coach Mike Coolbaugh during a minor league game in Arkansas in 2007.
Although baseball players in the coach's box are required to wear helmets during school games, there are no rules that mandate helmets for coaches, said Rebecca Brutlag, a spokeswoman for the California Interscholastic Federation.
"I've heard talk about changing that, though," she added. "There's a commissioners meeting coming up in June, and I'm sure it will be discussed then."
League representatives would have to vote on a formal proposal for an official rule change, but Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow sent an email out Wednesday morning strongly urging coaches to wear helmets from now on.
"I don't have the authority at this time to make it a rule," he said. "We will have a rule in place by next baseball season.
"We're the only one that doesn't have that rule. All the (minor leagues), little league, everybody has it except us, which is stupid."
The Tehachapi district's Gilbert said counselors were at the high school Wednesday to speak with students, faculty and staff who were worried, and she has sent email updates districtwide.
"It's such a small community, so there are a lot of connections," Gilbert said. "Coach Olie, that's what we call him, is very well liked. Everyone is concerned."
Staff writer Zach Ewing contributed to this report.