So Sad To See You Go Rich
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Though he was born and raised in Steubenville, Ohio and led a nomadic existence as a Major League-affiliated coach and manager for better than four decades, Rich Donnelly was proud to call Brooklyn his home for the past three years.
Sadly, Donnelly's run as the Cyclones' longest-tenured manager officially ended Thursday when the 67-year-old baseball sage accepted the Triple-A manager's post at Tacoma in the Seattle Mariners' organization.
"We wish him well," Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen told the Eagle on Thursday morning.
"Obviously, he spent three straight years with the club and we'd never had a manager for more than two. 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."
Donnelly guided Brooklyn to two playoff appearances and 128 wins during his stint in the dugout and along the third-base line on Coney Island.
He posted the second-most wins in the 13-year franchise's history while helping coveted draft choices and first-year free agents cut their teeth in professional baseball with the Mets' Class A short-season franchise by the sea.
"That was a strong point of his," Cohen said of Donnelly's player-development skills. "He was easygoing when needed and had a strong hand when he needed it. These guys are here for the first time, first-year ballplayers and Rich has been in baseball for 40-plus years. He's seen it all and dealt with thousands of ballplayers."
Though he replaced one of the most popular managers in Cyclones history, former Mets second baseman Wally Backman, Donnelly was a fan favorite and his players, many of whom have since moved up the team's organizational chain, swore by his style of leadership.
Donnelly was a notable contributor to the Hurricane Sandy Relief efforts on Coney Island following the devastating storm that nearly destroyed MCU Park, flooding the dugouts and clubhouses while leaving the diamond unplayable.
Following a $1 million renovation to the facility, the Cyclones were instrumental in bringing business back to the world's most famous amusement area this past summer, leading the New York-Penn League in attendance for the 13th consecutive year.
"When [Sandy] happened, I felt like it was my family," a teary-eyed Donnelly said in the Cyclones' dugout on the eve of Opening Day. "All we do is play baseball. I saw what happened. I saw the devastation to people that I know. We have people at the office here that still don’t have their homes. Our job is to provide some entertainment for those people who have been through hell. If we do that, irregardless of wins and losses, that’s our goal for this team.”
“They showed some film of the places that were hit," Donnelly recalled. "They showed the place where I park everyday. There was a trailer there passing out supplies and food and it just really hit me. We think what we do is important, but it’s not. It’s entertainment, not real life. It feels like my family. I’ve been here three years. I live not too far from here during the season. I wish I could have done more."
Following a 30-year stint as a big league coach, most notably as future Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland's third-base coach in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado, Donnelly's initial stint as Cyclones manager in 2011 resulted in a wild-card playoff berth and the development of seven NY-Penn All-Stars.
In 2012, the Cyclones had one of their best seasons ever under Donnelly, winning 45 games to capture the McNamara Division title before being ousted by Hudson Valley in the NY-Penn semifinals.
Last year, Brooklyn failed to reach the postseason, but did record its 13th straight winning season on Surf Avenue.
Donnelly was instrumental in helping budding Mets prospects like LJ Mazzilli, son of former Mets outfielder Lee Mazzilli, and former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini hone their craft.
“When I found out that Rich was LJ’s manager, I said ‘You can’t be with a better guy on your first stop in professional baseball’," the elder Mazzilli said of his former coach with the Pirates.
"This is a great place to play and playing for Rich, he’s a great manager," Cecchini gushed.
Donnelly is the 29th manager in Rainiers history and will look to build on an 836-753 career mark as a Minor League skipper. He was Leyland's third-base coach with the Marlins when that franchise won its first World Series in 1997, famously waving home Craig Counsell with the title-winning run.
Former big league hurler Jaime Navarro will join Donnelly as the Rainiers pitching coach and ex-Indians slugger Cory Snyder will take over hitting coach duties.
Donnelly himself was signed by Minnesota as a catcher in 1967 and played four seasons in the minor leagues with the Twins (1968-69) and Washington Senators (1970-71).
The Cyclones have not put a specific timeframe on when they would announce their manager for the upcoming 2014 season, but it should be soon as Spring Training camps will open across the nation next month.