Over 4,300 games. If he were a player that would have been the record by almost 1,000 games. At least 38,500 innings. That would have included 5,500 versions of take me out to the ballgame. In other words, new Brooklyn Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly has seen a lot of baseball.
For the last three decades the 63-year-old from Steubenville, Ohio has worked along side a who’s who of big league managers: Jim Leyland, Buddy Bell, Grady Little, Bobby Valentine. Not a bad list of co-workers. He has coached all-time legends -- Nolan Ryan, Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, and Nomar Garciaparra—and up-an-coming all-stars like Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen. He’s even been a member of a World Series Championship squad as the third base coach who waved in Craig Counsell with the winning run for the Florida Marlins in Game Seven of the 1997 World Series.
But to paint Rich Donnelly as only experienced baseball coach is to tell only half the story. The man who has spent the last two seasons working as a motivational speaker has a story to tell that can not be limited to just between the foul lines.
Like every other player and coach in the big leagues, Donnelly’s goal was always to make it to the World Series. After falling short with the Pirates in 1991, Donnelly headed into the 1992 campaign with Pittsburgh thinking that season would finally be the season. But early on in spring training, he quickly realized that making the World Series wasn’t nearly as important as the emphsis he placed on it in his own thoughts. While helping the Pirates get ready to defend their National League Eastern Division title, Donnelly got a phone call from his 17-year-old daughter, Amy.
“She called me and said ‘Dad, I have a brain tumor. I’m sorry,” the father of eight recalls. “Can you imagine that? This young woman is diagnosed with cancer and she’s apologizing to me?”
While still undergoing treatment in Pittsburgh, Amy was able to come to see her dad during the National League Championship Series in October.
“It was after the fifth game of the NLCS. We had just beaten the Braves and we were driving home and she says to me ‘Dad, when you get down in the stance when there is a runner on second, and you cup your hands around your mouth, what are you yelling at those guys on base? That the chicken runs at midnight or what?’ I said ‘What?!? Where did you come up with that one?’ She just laughed and said that it just came to her.”
There is no specific origin to the saying. No hidden meaning. It was just a simple phrase uttered by a daughter to her father. But it became a rallying cry of sorts for the Donnelly family.
“Before Game Seven down in Atlanta, she stayed back to keep getting her treatment, and when I got to old Fulton County Stadium, there was a message for me in the clubhouse. All it said was ‘The chicken runs at midnight, Love, Amy.’ So I’m standing in the clubhouse reading this thing and one of our players, Jose Lind, comes over and asks what it is. I tell him, ‘Jose, the chicken runs at midnight.’ Now, Jose was still learning English, so he just said okay and didn’t really understand what I was saying. But the next thing I know, Jose is out on the field shaking hands with all of our guys before the game and saying the chicken runs at midnight, and the guys in the dugout are saying it and nobody has any idea where it came from or what it meant. As fate would have it, we didn’t win that game and didn’t go on to the World Series.”
Three months later, on January 28, 1993, Amy lost her battle with cancer. But the Donnelly family’s message of the chicken runs at midnight carried on.
Four years later, Jim Leyland, who was the manager of the Pirates when Rich was there, got a job with Florida and asked Donnelly to join him on the Marlins staff. In their first year in Miami, the team upset the Braves and made it to the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s short history. It also marked the first time in Donnelly’s coaching career that he made it to the fall classic—a career that began in 1972 in the Texas Rangers farm system.
The Series went back and forth between the Marlins and Cleveland Indians and once again it would come down to a decisive Game Seven. For this game, two of Rich’s sons, Tim and Mike, joined their father in the dugout, serving as the bat boys for the Marlins. Florida tied the game in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra frames and in the bottom of the 11th, the Marlins were poised to strike with the bases loaded and two outs.
“I had a million emotions going through my head at that point, and I wasn’t even playing in the game. We had an infielder on our team named Craig Counsell and my kids called him chicken wing because of his unorthodox batting stance. He held his elbow up high, like a chicken wing. When Edgar Renteria got that hit to score the winning run I jumped about 12-feet in the air. The whole place was mayhem. I find my two kids and we’re jumping around and my son Tim says to me, ‘look at the clock.’ And when I did, it was exactly midnight. And my son said, ‘Dad, the chicken ran at midnight.’”
Since then, what started as a conversation between a father and daughter has blossomed into a global tale. Donnelly has been all over the world sharing his daughter Amy’s story and helping to raise money for children all across the country who are suffering from serious illnesses.
So at the end of the game if the Cyclones happen to come up a little short, don’t expect Donnelly to act like it’s the end of the world. He loves to win as much as anyone, but he’s seen that there are certainly more important things in life than what happens in the bottom of the ninth.