By John Torenli
After leading a furious second-half charge that saw the Cyclones finish with the second-best record in the New York-Penn League and fall just short of stunning arch rival Staten Island in the first round of the playoffs last season, Rich Donnelly will be back as Brooklyn’s manager this coming June.
Brooklyn announced Tuesday morning that Donnelly, 64, will remain the eighth skipper in franchise history after guiding the Baby Bums to an impressive 45-29 record before enduring a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat to the Baby Bombers in the third and decisive game of the NY-Penn semifinals.
A self-described baseball lifer, the Steubenville, Ohio, native has been coaching in Major League-affiliated baseball since 1972 with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and finally, the Mets. He was the Marlins’ third-base coach under Jim Leyland during the 1997 World Series championship season.
Known for his irrepressible manner and limitless knowledge of the game, Donnelly cut a less attention-grabbing figure than his predecessor, current Triple-A Buffalo manager Wally Backman.
But his steady presence, along with that of returning hitting instructor Bobby Malek, was instrumental in the development of players like outfielder Travis Taijeron, who hit .299 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in only 56 games with the Cyclones last summer.
“They both just kind of helped me relax and deal with the wear and tear of every day baseball,” Taijeron said. “They helped me deal with the slumps and kept me grounded when I was hot. They helped me cut down my swing a little bit, but mostly they helped me with the mental side of the game.”
Joining Donnelly and Malek will be pitching coach Marc Valdes, who served in the same role under Backman at Double-A Binghamton last year.
Malek, 30, enters his fourth season as a coach in the Mets minor league system after the Cyclones finished third in the NY-Penn in hitting during the 2011 campaign. Originally selected by the Mets in the fourth round of the 2002 MLB Draft out of Michigan State, the Livonia, Michigan native began his professional career with Brooklyn in 2002. The two-time college All-American hit .207 in 28 games with the Cyclones before having his season cut short due to injury. Before retiring from playing in 2008, Malek made it as high as Triple-A Norfolk in 2006.
Valdes, 40, enters his sixth season with the Mets. The native of Dayton, Ohio pitched in the Majors for six seasons (1995-2001) with the Marlins, Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves. In 144 career games, the right-hander went 12-15 with four saves and a 4.95 ERA.
"With the success that Rich and Bobby had with the Cyclones in 2011, we are glad to have them back this year," said Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen. "We're also excited to welcome Marc Valdes to the Cyclones family and look forward to his first season in Brooklyn."
Still seeking their first NY-Penn title since the inaugural 2011 campaign, the Cyclones will open their 12th season at MCU Park on June 18 vs. reigning champion Staten Island.