Former Brooklyn skipper to serve as Mariners' third-base coach
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Rich Donnelly stunned Brooklyn fans and the Cyclones organization earlier this winter when he announced that he’d be leaving Coney Island for an opportunity to manage the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, Wash.
Just two months later, Donnelly is already out of that job – and on to an even bigger one as the Mariners’ third-base coach after John Stearns announced last Friday that he would be unable to man the post due to his difficult recovery from hiatal-hernia surgery.
"As we move forward, the most important thing is making sure John gets healthy and can be productive again," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told MLB.com,
"Rich brings a lot of expertise," added McClendon, who was coached by Donnelly during his playing days with the Pirates from 1990-94. "He's been a bench coach, he's an ex-catcher, he's managed. There's a lot of experience that comes along with Rich Donnelly, and he'll serve us well."
Brooklyn’s longest-tenured manager from 2011-13, Donnelly has spent better than four decades in Major League-affiliated baseball, including 25 at the big league level, most famously as Jim Leyland’s third-base coach in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado during the 1990s.
He waved home Craig Counsell with the game-winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Marlins, and went on to enjoy third-base coaching stints with Milwaukee (2003-05) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2006-07).
After serving as an advisor for the Pirates from 2008-2010, Donnelly took the Cyclones job in the winter of 2011 and guided Brooklyn to two playoff appearances during his three seasons at the helm, compiling 128 wins – the second-most in franchise history – while developing several New York-Penn League All-Stars.
He was slated to come back to Brooklyn in 2014, but the Mariners came calling with an opportunity to manage at a higher level. The 67-year-old Donnelly took the position, and the Cyclones have since hired fellow baseball lifer, Tom Gamboa, as their skipper for the upcoming campaign.
"Obviously, [Rich] spent three straight years with the club and we'd never had a manager for more than two,” Cyclones long-time general manager Steve Cohen told the Eagle in January.
“He was great to work with and a great baseball guy. I think it's a great opportunity for him [in Tacoma]. He had an opportunity to return to us, but he had a chance to go to Triple-A and I think he's running the Mariners' Spring Training camp."
Now, Donnelly will be doing much more than that.
The Steubenville, Ohio native, who was a significant contributor to Coney Island’s comeback efforts last summer following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, will be in the third-base coaches’ box for the first pitch of the Mariners’ season opener in Anaheim on March 31.
Donnelly’s promotion opened the manager’s spot at Tacoma, which has since been filled by Roy Howell, who was originally slated to be the hitting coach for Seattle’s Double-A affiliate in Jackson, Miss.
Stearns, a former catcher and coach in the Mets’ organization, will remain in the Mariners’ system for the duration of the season as a scout and could be back along the third-base line in 2015.
Until then, however, Donnelly will get to spend his first full season on a big league diamond since 2007, something he certainly couldn’t have predicted when he decided to say goodbye to MCU Park two months ago.
In other local baseball news, LIU-Brooklyn senior outfielder Pete Leonello was named the Northeast Conference Co-Player of the Week on Monday.
Leonello went 8-for-12 with six RBIs, four runs scored and posted a .692 on-base percentage during the Blackbirds’ 2-0-1 week at the 2014 RussMatt Central Florida Invitational last weekend.
The Commack, N.Y., native earned the distinction for the first time since his freshman campaign in Downtown Brooklyn. He drove in five runs during a 9-4 victory over Northwestern and contributed four hits and an RBI in a 13-2 rout of North Dakota State.
Leonello also recorded his 48th career stolen base in the North Dakota State game, eclipsing the Blackbirds’ all-time mark set by Brooklyn native James Jones, who is currently being coached by Donnelly in the Mariners’ Spring Training camp in Peoria, Ariz.
The Blackbirds (6-7-1) were slated to visit St. John’s Wednesday night.
The Brooklyn College women’s softball team kicks off its season Wednesday against Farmingdale State College under the guidance of new skipper Michael Ponsignlione.
The Lady Bulldogs’ new manager will try to carry over his success from the high school level at St. Joseph by the Sea High School in Staten Island, NY., where he served as Varsity Head Coach from 2010-13, amassing an incredible 100-9 record over four seasons.
"This is a new experience for me (coming from high school to college)." Ponsiglione noted. "However, the game is the same, just quicker."
Ponsiglione retained assistant coach Frank Izzo while adding Kaitlyn Flynn and Brittney Stratton to his staff.
Ponsiglione will rely on a strong veteran core to help with his transition from the high school to the collegiate level.
The Bulldogs return 14 of 17 players from last season's team that posted a 23-17 overall record, advancing to Day Two of the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) Softball Championships.
Twelve of the returnees are upperclassmen (six seniors and six juniors).
On the strength of their regular season, the Bulldogs were also selected to play in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III Metro Championships for the second straight season and fourth overall appearance since 2008.
"With everyone being a year older, I expect to do better than last year and continue to build upon the strong foundation that has been set here," said Ponsiglione.