Legacy of love and kindness perseveres as Rich Donnelly suffers another unfathomable tragedy

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

I went to the funeral of Amy Donnelly, 18, in Arlington, Texas, in 1993, and it was the saddest thing I have ever seen. Soon, I will attend the funeral of Mike Donnelly, 38, who was killed Sunday night in Dallas when he was struck by a car while assisting a motorist, a stranger who needed help. To lose two children is unfathomable; it is tragic and personal for me, given the father of those children is one of the most beloved and respected coaches in baseball the past 35 years, everyone's friend, my dear friend, Rich Donnelly.

As writers, we are not supposed to become friends with the people we cover, to socialize with them, but, in a writing career that has lasted 40 years, I have crossed that line once: with Rich Donnelly.

I met him in 1982 when I became the beat guy for the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News. We talked a lot about baseball and basketball, our shared passions. Rich even coached our winter league basketball team in Texas. But mostly, we talked about his children, Bubba, Mike, Tim and Amy. Bubba became a really good basketball player, going on to play point guard at Robert Morris University, and his dad prepared him for it by, among many things, making every Tuesday "Left-Handed Tuesday,'' which meant Bubba had to eat, write and do just about everything with his left hand.

Amy was beautiful, joyful, vibrant. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1992, she called her dad and said, "I need to tell you something. I have a brain tumor, and I am sorry.''

A year later, she died, leaving a legacy of love and kindness, and she remains a key part of a wonderful story that extends beyond baseball. When her dad, from the third-base coach's box with the Pittsburgh Pirates, would cup his hands and yell to a runner on second base, Amy once asked, "Dad, what are you yelling to the runner, 'The chicken runs at midnight'?"

It became a rallying cry with the Pirates: The Chicken Runs At Midnight. And when Rich became the third-base coach for the Marlins in 1997, they had an infielder, Craig Counsell, whom Mike and Tim Donnelly nicknamed "The Chicken" because of his odd batting stance: He flapped his back elbow, like a chicken, as he waited for the pitch. Counsell scored the winning run for the Marlins in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, four years after Amy's death. That night, Tim and Mike Donnelly were bat boys for the Marlins. Seconds after Counsell scored, Tim looked at his father, pointed at the clock on the scoreboard and screamed "Dad, look, The Chicken ran at midnight!''

That remarkable story was turned into a song by Brad Holman, a former major league pitcher. It is also being made into a movie with the help of our writer friend Tom Friend. And on that night, on the top of the pile of Marlins, was Mike Donnelly, age 17.

"He was the funniest human being I have ever met,'' Rich said. "So, as the celebration was going on, Mike went into [Marlins manager] Jim Leyland's office, shut the door and called every friend he had on Jim's phone. In between calls, a representative from the White House called Jim's office and said, 'This is the White House, President Clinton would like to talk to Jim Leyland.' Mike answered the phone and said, "Right, and I am Santa Claus!' then he hung up. Five seconds later, the White House called again and said, "No, this really is the White House; President Clinton really does want to talk to Jim Leyland.' So, Mike went flying out of the office and got Jimmy. That was Mike.''

Mike Donnelly was a kicker at Steubenville High School. Reno Saccoccia, the famous football coach at that Ohio school, calls him "the toughest kid I ever coached.'' A 5-foot-6 kicker. Mike was then a kicker for four years at Cumberland College. He got his degree, but he founds lots of trouble from there, and he served time in prison.


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