McLemore: Cole was a great inspiration'
From staff and wire reports
April 2, 2001
Meridian lost one of its own Saturday night, when former MHS Wildcat standout Brian Cole, a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets' organization, died when he was ejected from his SUV after it crashed in the Florida Panhandle.
Cole, 22, was not wearing a seat belt when his Ford Explorer overturned as he drove home Saturday from spring training in Port St. Lucie to Meridian, with his cousin, Ryan Cole, a Florida Highway Patrol accident report said.
Sunday, some of those who had the pleasure of knowing and coaching Cole, reflected on his life.
Meridian High School athletic director Mac Barnes was Cole's football coach in high school. Cole was an all-state player in football as well as baseball.
I felt he was every bit as good in football as he was in baseball,'' Barnes said Sunday.
Bill McFarland coached Cole and his three older brothers at Meridian, and played semi-pro baseball with Cole's father, William.
They've been like an extended family to me,'' said McFarland, who was head coach at Meridian for 22 years before stepping down two years ago.
The family is not taking it very well. They're all, like I am, really in shock,'' he said.
Meridian baseball coach Vince McLemore said Cole would work out with the current team when he returned home during the offseason and was a hero to young players in his hometown.
He was just a great inspiration. So many of our kids looked up to him,'' said McLemore, who has been coaching at Meridian for two years.
Barnes said Cole's picture is in the team's media guide.
Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said Cole was taking his Explorer home and was to fly Sunday to Binghamton, N.Y., to join the Mets' Double-A team for its season opener.
The one-car accident occurred on Interstate 10 near State Highway 286, just south of the Georgia border and about 45 miles northwest of Tallahassee.
Witnesses traveling behind Cole said they watched as his Explorer veered into the median and re-entered the highway, said Cpl. Ricky Warden, an FHP homicide investigator. Cole apparently struggled to regain control of the truck before it turned over.
Cole, who was single and the youngest of five children to William and Maudelene Cole, was pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Ryan Cole, 17, was treated and released.
Warden said there was no indication that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash and that the accident remained under investigation.
Explorers have been involved in several rollovers linked to faulty tires, but the FHP said there is no indication of a tire blowout on Cole's vehicle.
Seat belts are important, especially in rollover conditions, and we've got one person who remained in the vehicle and one who didn't, so that's an area we're going to focus on,'' Warden said.
The Mets were at a team dinner in Pittsburgh following an exhibition game Saturday against the Pirates when general manager Steve Phillips received a telephone call with the news.
Phillips told the team and some of the players, who knew Cole from spring training, started to cry.
Cole set a state record for home runs in his senior year at Meridian and was Baseball America's Junior College Player of the Year in 1998 at Navarro Junior College in Texas.
He was selected by the Mets in the 18th round of the 1998 amateur draft and turned down a football scholarship to Florida State.
Everybody who saw Brian Cole play football or baseball never forgot it,'' Barnes said.
Cole had a combined 19 homers, 86 RBIs and 69 steals last year for Class A St. Lucie and Binghamton. He hit .312 with 54 steals for St. Lucie and .278 with 15 steals at Binghamton.
He had a .306 average in the minor leagues with 135 steals, 42 homers and 193 RBIs. Cole was 5-foot-9 and Baseball America wrote that if Cole were a couple of inches taller, he would have been a much higher draft pick.''
Cole was optioned by the Mets to Binghamton on March 17. He batted .182 (2-for-11) for New York during spring training this year with no homers, two RBIs and three steals.