Cyclones skipper overwhelmed by damage wrought by "Sandy"
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Anyone who has been around Rich Donnelly during his first two seasons as Cyclones manager knows the Ohio native is an affable sort, as quick with a quip as he is with the flash of a sign from the third-base coaches' box at newly renovated MCU Park.
But sitting in the Brooklyn dugout Saturday evening prior to the Baby Bums' initial workout of the 2013 campaign, the third-year skipper revealed a side of himself many of us who cover the team had never seen before.
"When that happened, I felt like it was my family," said the 66-year-old baseball sage, wiping tears from his reddened eyes while recalling the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Coney Island late last October.
"All we do is play baseball. I saw what happened. I saw the devastation to people that I know," added Donnelly, who is entering his team-record third season at the helm of the Mets' Class A short-season franchise by the sea.
"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.”
Donnelly, who has spent more than three decades in pro baseball, most notably as future Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland's right-hand man during stops in Pittsburgh, Florida and Detroit, has clearly emerged as a Surf Avenue mainstay.
And the devastation caused by one of the most brutal storms to ever hit our borough cut him to the quick.
“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 wish I could have done more."
Donnelly noted that he did send a truck with supplies up to Brooklyn to help in the recovery efforts, and the Cyclones, as an organization are hosting a series of events throughout the season to aid in the rebuilding of the waterfront area.
The ballpark itself, submerged in several feet of water following the storm, has undergone a massive renovation, including a new $1 million artificial field surface that should help the club avoid rainouts due to its quick bounce-back ability following severe storms.
“We can’t forget how bad it was," said Donnelly, who will take yet another stab at capturing the Cyclones' first New York-Penn League Championship since the inaugural 2001 campaign after reaching the playoffs in each of his first two seasons on Surf Avenue. "I wasn’t here, but they tell me stories that we had water up over the dugout. I live not too far from here [during the season], and they told me the current was out over the Belt Parkway.
"That’s unbelievable to me. That’s something you see in a movie!”
What's truly unbelievable to Donnelly, and those who took in MCU Park for the first time since the cleanup and rebuilding effort, is how immaculate and ready for action the ballpark appears.
Cyclones media relations director Billy Harner called the renovation "worth every penny" as players like newly drafted LJ Mazzilli, son of former Mets star Lee Mazzilli, took his first grounders off the new turf.
“The turf looks like grass and it’s clean," said Donnelly. "This is the finest park in the Minor Leagues. We’re a rookie league team that draws 7 to 8 thousand. Nobody does that. It’s like LJ told me today, ‘This is like Yankee Stadium.’ This park is absolutely beautiful.”
Made even more so by the man who inhabits the top step of the dugout and the third-base line on 38 home dates each summer for three years running.
"It's quite an honor to be here, especially this year after all that's happened," Donnelly said.
He may have been born in Steubenville, but Rich Donnelly can rightfully call himself a true Brooklynite.
With the Cyclones back in action and sure to take up plenty of space in our various publications, the Eagle would like to send out a special salute to another ballclub from our fair borough.
I.S. 318 from Williamsburg recent topped J.H.S. 22 of the Bronx for its second New York City Middle School Baseball League Championship in three years.
The 12-8 triumph on June 8 at Columbia University's Robertson Field left the kids from I.S. 318 as the last team standing among 53 schools from Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn participating in the MSBL.
The league is sponsored by Pinnacle Group, which supplies all the teams with free equipment, uniforms and permits for fields. The league commissioner is Robert Schliessman from the Anderson School in Manhattan. The league website, for those interested, is www.leaguelineup.com/msblnyc and I.S. 318's official team website is www.eteamz.com/is318baseball.