Phoenix families rally to help youth baseball coach recovering from brain surgery

A youth baseball coach in Phoenix had brain surgery and families are rallying to help him recover.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 5:21 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — You can hear the crack of the bat and the sound of kids playing catch at The Cages Training Facility in north Phoenix. What’s missing is coach Bob Gunnarsson, 61, who had to step away from the game because of a major health crisis. “When I heard that he was gonna go into surgery I felt kind of scared for him,” said C.J Dechaud, 14. “It was in a weird spot on his brain and might not end well.”

Coach Gunnar has taught kids to hit, pitch and field at The Cages for the past eight years. His booming voice and big laugh keep families coming back. The Cages owner Mike Flynn said Gunnar has a unique way of connecting with players. “He’s sort of a Renaissance man, in the sense he can relate to young kids, and has a goofy side to him,” said Flynn. “Very talented, does imitations, does voices, and the kids love it.”

On Your Side found three ballparks where you can get a reserved seat and parking for less than $15.

The beloved coach is a former pitcher who played ball at USC and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. After seven years in professional baseball, Gunnar turned to coaching where he’s thrived and made lasting relationships. “Coach Gunnar makes everything silly, but does what is hard in a fun way,” said baseball player Joey Dechaud.

Last week, coach Gunnar had surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor from his brain, and his absence has hit the baseball community pretty hard. Gunnar’s only income is from coaching and lessons, so a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with expenses while recovering. “I’m very glad that people are helping out,” said parent Joanna Galuszka. “He’s a good guy and we appreciate him. If we can support him in any way, we can and we will.”

Coach Gunnar said his surgery went well, and his prognosis was good. He can’t wait to return to the field and left a video message for his players. “Hi, everybody, I just wanted to thank you all for your kind words and encouragement,” said Gunnarsson. “I know I look like a boxer right now, but we’re going to get through this.”