Sports

Cyclones’ Skipper Has a Story of Faith

Donnelly
Brooklyn Cyclones’ Manager Rich Donnelly

Normally in tune with his Catholic faith, there was a time when Brooklyn Cyclones first-year manager Rich Donnelly lost his religion to the peer pressures of baseball. However, one chilling experience reeled him back in and gave him a new look on life.
Donnelly has been a Major League Baseball coach for nearly 30 years. He spent time with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies before taking the Cyclones managerial job. Each step of the way, he has developed a reputation as being a knowledgeable coach.
“I thought when I got into baseball I was a very strict Catholic,” said Donnelly.
With a tumultuous life in the big leagues, he at one point found himself sneaking to Mass rather than openly practicing his faith. Still, he always set a positive example for his eight children.
During spring training 1992, Donnelly received a wake-up call from his 17-year-old daughter Amy, telling him she had a brain tumor. This news devastated him.
“It was probably the hardest thing I ever had to swallow in my life,” Donnelly said. “But I felt for her. She was in the prime of her life, having fun, and all of a sudden it might be over in a year.”
Even after an operation and chemotherapy, doctors placed Amy’s life expectancy around nine months. Still, her love for the game of baseball never waned.
In fall 1992, Donnelly was with the Pirates, who were playing the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. After the game, the family was in the car heading home, and Amy reached up to Rich and said: “Dad, when you get down in that stance at third base and you cup your hands, what are you telling those guys? ‘The chicken runs at midnight’ or what?”
Donnelly was very confused but shrugged it off as Amy just being her fun-loving self.  Amy didn’t know why she thought of that phrase and said it just came out.
Later in the series, Amy couldn’t make a game because of treatment, but sent her dad the following note: “Dear Dad, The chicken runs at midnight, Love Amy.”
‘The chicken runs at midnight’ became the family motto. Donnelly even involved his players with the phrase.
Sadly, Amy couldn’t fight any longer, and she passed away on Jan. 28, 1993. When asked what they wanted on Amy’s tombstone, Donnelly and his family knew immediately.
“We all just sort of laughed and said we want ‘The chicken runs at midnight,’” said Donnelly. “You never think you’re going to have to say goodbye to your little girl. But we put those words on her tombstone and every time I see it, I chuckle.”
Amy’s death served as a turning point for Donnelly. He openly returned to his Catholic faith from which he had strayed.
For the first time in his long career, Donnelly earned a trip to the World Series in 1997 as the third base coach for the Marlins. What happened in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 at Pro Player Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla., was truly a miracle.
Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell stepped the plate representing the go-ahead run. Donnelly’s sons, Tim and Mike, were the team’s bat boys, and they referred to Counsell as ‘Chicken Wing’ due to Counsell’s unusual batting stance in which he flapped his left arm like a chicken.
Counsell reached base safely on an error and later advanced to third. Shortstop Edgar Renteria delivered the game-winning single up the middle, chasing home Counsell for the Marlins first-ever World Series title.
Total pandemonium ensued on the field. Donnelly was celebrating with his team, until his sons ran over to him hysterically crying.
“Look up at the clock,” they cried.
It was midnight. Just like Amy had predicted four years earlier, the chicken ran at midnight.
“I was stunned,” Donnelly remembered. “Every emotion in my body was just limp. Amy knew how much it would mean to me to win a World Series.  She had to be there with me, no doubt in my mind. I wanted to call her and tell her the chicken ran at midnight.”
This experience has further stimulated Donnelly’s faith. He believes that Amy was sending him a message on the fateful night.
He said, “That incident capped off my coming back to religion and getting back to where I’m supposed to be and getting back to where you should be as a person.”

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