by Tony Rossi
“The chicken runs at midnight” isn’t a sentence you’ll find in your Bible, but it is a divinely inspired statement that brought proof of heaven to Rich Donnelly, a grieving father who needed to find his way back to God.
Rich grew up as a devout Catholic kid in Steubenville, Ohio, where he “was taught the right way,” he told me during an interview. And for a while, Rich followed that “right way.” He married his college sweetheart, Peggy, and they had four children: Bubba, Amy, Mike, and Tim.
Rich also found work in the field he loved best: baseball. He explained, “My dream was to be in the big leagues, and I thought…you had to do what big leaguers did. They drank, smoked, ran around at night…So that’s what I did.”
Rich’s infidelity destroyed his marriage and damaged his relationships with his kids. Amy took it especially hard. It was Rich’s second wife, Roberta, who started to get him back on track, and Amy came to forgive him. Then, in 1992, when Rich was third base coach with the Pirates, Amy was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only nine months to live. Rich felt devastated. Surprisingly, Amy handled the news better than anyone. Rich said, “She had some kind of faith from God…She packed more caring, happiness, and consideration into nine months than I have in my 72 years.”
The sentence that changed the Donnellys’ lives came after Amy, her brothers, and her best friend were driving home with Rich after a playoff game. Amy said to her father, “When you get down in that crouch with a man on second, what are you telling those guys? The chicken runs at midnight or what?”
Everyone in the car cracked up laughing and asked Amy where she came up with that line. “I don’t know, it just came out,” she answered. From that point on, “the chicken runs at midnight” became the family’s motto. And when Amy passed away, that was the epitaph they had etched on her tombstone.
In 1997, Rich was third base coach for the Marlins, and his sons, Mike and Tim, were batboys. The kids noticed that second baseman Craig Counsell had a strange batting stance that involved him flapping his left arm like a chicken. Secretly, they called him “the chicken.” The Marlins made it to game seven of the World Series that year. In the 11th inning of a tie game, Counsell was on third base hoping to score the winning run. Rich was right next to him. The Marlins got a base hit and Counsell scored, winning the Series.
The team erupted in celebration! Then, Rich saw his son Tim screaming and pointing at the stadium clock. Rich turned around to see the time as 12:02 a.m. Rich said, “Craig Counsell, the chicken, scored the winning run at midnight. A silly phrase that meant nothing five years ago had come to pass. Amy was there that night. There’s no doubt in my mind. I never believed in miracles. I do now.”
Rich now travels the country sharing this miraculous story. “At the same time,” he concluded, “[I tell] people how dumb and egotistical I was, and tell them not to put their personal goals in the way of your family. I always wanted a wife, kids, and to be in the big leagues. I got everything I ever dreamed about. And I messed it all up. [The experience with Amy] made me want to go back to church every day.”
Tony Rossi is Director of Communications for The Christophers.