Regardless, the new manager of the Kingsport Mets describes the journey that’s led him to Kingsport as blessed.
The 72-year-old Donnelly has been involved in professional baseball for 51 years, 29 of them primarily as a third-base coach in the major leagues.
He is in his fifth year with the New York Mets organization and his first year as manager of the K-Mets.
TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP
Donnelly has achieved a lot of milestones during his career.
He was a coach under manager Jim Leyland for 18 years on three major league teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.
Donnelly was part of the Marlins’ coaching staff in 1997 when the team won the World Series.
He was also on the Pirates’ staff and played an instrumental role in the early career of seven-time National League MVP Barry Bonds when Bonds played for Pittsburgh from 1986-92.
“He was one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game,” Donnelly said of Bonds.
He counts coaching Bonds as one of the top highlights of his professional career.
Donnelly has been a coach for teams that have made a combined six playoff appearances, was part of a coaching staff on a major league all-star team and helped coach Team USA to a gold medal in the World Baseball Classic.
“I’ve been blessed. There’s no doubt about that,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly also has been on coaching staffs with the Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners.
He managed the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season Class A team, from 2011-13.
In 2014, Donnelly returned to the majors and worked as third-base coach for two seasons in Seattle before going back to the Mets last year as bench coach for the Brooklyn club.
Donnelly worked as the Mets’ minor league baseball director before being named manager of the K-Mets this spring.
Since February, he’s been working with his coaching staff and players preparing for the start of the Appalachian League season.
“We’re excited to start playing some games and facing some different competition,” Donnelly said. “Some of these kids have been scrimmaging and going through drills since February. So we’re ready to get going.”
THE DOWN SIDE
Despite his success on the baseball diamond, Donnelly’s life has been far from all highlights. He suffered tragedy no parent wants to face.
His most devastating losses came with the deaths of his daughter, Amy, who died from brain tumor in 1993, and of his son, Michael, in January of last year. Michael was struck and killed by a car while attempting to aid a stranded female motorist on a highway.
Michael pushed the person out of the path of an oncoming car, which struck and killed him while it was traveling at 65 mph.
Tragedy nearly struck two of Donnelly’s children again in 2017 while they were attending an outdoor concert in Las Vegas that was terrorized by a gunman. His daughters Tiffany Rodriquez and Leighanne Donnelly were at the concert when gunfire erupted from a nearby hotel. Fifty-eight people were killed and countless others injured.
Gunfire struck a woman immediately in front of Donnelly’s daughters in the face. His daughters ran to the woman’s aid, using their own clothing as tourniquets until rescuers could get to her.
“They say you’re supposed to be heroes to your children. Let me tell you, my children, all of them, are my heroes,” Rich Donnelly said.
THE CHICKEN RUNS AT MIDNIGHT
Donnelly’s daughter Amy once asked her father what he told runners from the third-base coaching box when he cupped his hands.
“The chicken runs at midnight or what?” she said to her father with a smile and a laugh.
Four years after Amy’s death, in Game 7 of the World Series, Craig Counsell scored from third base on a single by Edgar Renteria to give the Marlins the championship. Earlier that same year, Donnelly’s son had nicknamed Counsell “Chicken” because of his batting stance.
It was midnight when Counsell scored the winning run, leading to the title of the book that details Donnelly’s journey through life: “The Chicken Runs at Midnight.”
READY TO ROLL
Donnelly and the K-Mets open the season Tuesday at Greeneville with a two-game series. The clubs finish the three-game set Thursday at Kingsport’s Hunter Wright Stadium in the home opener for the K-Mets.