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Blue Jays coach leaves team after death of daughter

Mark Budzinski is in his fourth season with the Blue Jays. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Blue Jays announced Sunday that first base coach Mark Budzinski will be away from the team following the death of his eldest daughter. Julia Budzinski was 17.

“This devastating loss is felt by our entire organization and we grieve alongside Bud and his family,” Ross Atkins, the team’s general manager and head of baseball operations, said in a statement. “I have known Bud for more than 25 years and have always admired his commitment as a dad and husband first. He is loved and well-respected by our entire clubhouse and holds a special place in all our hearts.”

A spokesperson from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources confirmed to the Associated Press on Monday that Julia Budzinski died in a tubing accident. The 17-year-old fell from her tube into the James River, and the boat pulling the tube hit a wave as it turned around, striking Budzinski with the propeller, the spokesperson said. Alcohol was not reported as a factor, and no foul play was suspected.

A vigil was held Sunday night at Glen Allen High, where Budzinski was a rising senior and played soccer and other sports.

“It was a very happy, fun last day on Earth for her,” her mother, Monica, said at the vigil, per the AP. “She was happy, laughing, having a good time, and that’s the way I’m going to remember her.”

Before a game in Toronto on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, players and coaches for both teams lined up along the foul lines for a moment of silence as an image of Julia Budzinski was displayed at Rogers Centre.

Mark Budzinski had left a game Saturday against the Rays in the third inning. He was accompanied by Manager Charlie Montoyo, who was temporarily replaced by bench coach John Schneider, while bullpen catcher Luis Hurtado took over as first base coach.

After the Blue Jays’ game Sunday, a 7-3 Rays win, Montoyo told reporters that “everyone in our clubhouse is thinking of Bud.”

“There’s good men and great men. He’s a great man,” the manager said. “You’d ache for anybody, but he’s a special kind of person.”

“This tragedy reminds us what’s more important in life,” Montoyo added. “As a father and a husband myself, my heart breaks for Bud and his family.”

Rays Manager Kevin Cash said before Sunday’s game that his thoughts were with Budzinski and the coach’s family, as well as the Blue Jays organization as a whole.

“I know yesterday was a rough day; today is a rough day,” Cash said. “So we’re heartbroken as well.”

A 48-year-old native of Severna Park, Md., Budzinski is in his fourth season as the Blue Jays’ first base coach. He appeared in four major league games in 2003 as an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds before ending his playing career in 2005.

After spending several years as a real estate agent in Virginia, Budzinski returned to the game in 2014 and began managing minor league teams in Cleveland’s organization. In addition to the opportunity to be a major league coach, Budzinski was drawn to Toronto because of his longtime friendship with Atkins, a former teammate during their minor league playing days.

Tigers Manager A.J. Hinch, another former minor league teammate of Budzinski’s, expressed his sorrow Sunday.

“He’s someone I consider a dear friend,” Hinch told reporters before a game against the Kansas City Royals. “His daughter is the same age as my daughters. Tough morning.”