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MLB coaching icon has stories of family heroics you won’t believe.

Sometimes, the narrator questions his credibility. A self-described “nobody” from Steubenville, Ohio, shouldn’t possess so many engaging anecdotes. Rich Donnelly repeats the grandest names — “Ted Williams! Are you kidding me? Ted Williams!” — and shakes his head in disbelief, recounting how, as a minor league catcher, he once unleashed the MVP of four-letter words...
Time: 22:56     Date: 11.07.2018
Last US Sport News: MLB coaching icon has stories of family heroics you won’t believe. NY Post 24 - US News

Rich Donnelly repeats the grandest names — “Ted Williams! Are you kidding me? Ted Williams!” — and shakes his head in disbelief, recounting how, as a minor league catcher, he once unleashed the MVP of four-letter words at the Red Sox legend for overlooking him in spring training.

Another tale is always on deck.

Donnelly is borrowing Billy Martin’s car, then being told to avoid Monica Lewinsky jokes before meeting Bill Clinton. He is spending warm days at the track with Don Zimmer, then fall nights with Barry Bonds.

The Brooklyn Cyclones bench coach’s stories sprint back and forth through five decades in pro baseball and make repeated, and unscheduled, stops at his eight children, 10 grandchildren and two marriages.

The 72-year-old’s eyes well with pride, then tears.

The hardest stories to tell are the ones Donnelly most wants to share. The longer the latest version lasts, the longer Amy and Mike are here again; the more he’s reminded how easily Leighanne and Tiffany could not be.

The disabled SUV was turned sideways, blocking an already narrow stretch of U.S. Highway 67 in Dallas. The accident’s other half had disappeared into the dark January night.

Another crash appeared inevitable, and Lyndsee Longoria stopped to help. Rich’s son, Mike, came next, assisting in pushing the car off the road.

“He asked if we needed help, and I could’ve told him no,” Longoria said of the accident seven months ago. “For a while I kept asking myself, ‘Why did you tell him yes?’”

A light flashed. Longoria and Mike Donnelly lay beside each other on the ground.

Her right fibula and tibia had shattered. Her sweater remained in his hand, ripped after Mike threw Longoria away from — and himself in front of — the oncoming vehicle, whose driver saw them too late.

“I felt this big hand yank me, and he grabbed onto my back and shielded me from most of the impact,” Longoria said. “I kept telling him, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and he just stared at me with these big beautiful eyes, and I asked him to please, please hold on.”

Mike DonnellyRich Donnelly

Mike was an athlete, a kicker at Cumberland College. His father describes him as the smartest and funniest and most talented member of the family. He was also the most troubled — a drug problem led to a short prison sentence.

Weeks before the accident, his younger brother, Tim, told their father that Mike hadn’t seemed so good in years. Now Tim called again, waking Rich to tell him Mike had been pronounced dead at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

“He told me the whole story, and wow, I had instant peace,” Rich said. “The way he died, being a hero, I couldn’t be any prouder, no matter what kind of life he had.”

Longoria was transported to the same hospital, and joined by her 6-year-old twin boys. When she returned home, she remained inside for months.

“The stuff I saw, it’s still hard to get through,” Longoria said. “I would lock myself inside my bathroom because I would have flashbacks a lot, and bad dreams.

Rich Donnelly

“I felt cornered. I felt alone. I never felt so close to somebody, and wanted to talk to someone so badly in my life, and he wasn’t here.”

Longoria called Rich shortly after the accident, tearfully thanking him for his son’s bravery. Now, she also feels indebted to Mike’s father.

“If it wasn’t for Rich, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through a lot of it,” Longoria said. “It was really hard. I would call and text Rich, and he would help me through it. I’ve never even spoken with my own family the way I have with Rich. He empowers you. Maybe it’s the coach in that man. He talks you up, and he makes you feel like nobody can touch you.

“He said, ‘Michael gave you a gift, and you have to take advantage of it.’”

Longoria speaks with Mike every day, visiting the solar-powered cross she placed at the accident site every Sunday. Her son, Isaiah, constantly wears Mike’s hat — mistakenly given to Longoria after their possessions were strewn in the accident — forever revering the stranger who saved his mother.

Mike Donnelly died Jan. 7. Michael Donnelly Longoria is due in mid-November.

“When I told [Rich] about the baby, he said you tell me when my grandson gets here,” Longoria said. “Rich said, ‘I might’ve lost a son, but I gained a daughter.’”

Spring training 1992 presented so much potential, so many possibilities. The Pirates had just fallen one win shy of the World Series and returned Barry Bonds, ace Doug Drabek and manager Jim Leyland.

As one of baseball’s best teams prepared in Florida, Donnelly — Pittsburgh’s third-base coach — was in Arlington, Texas, following a call from his oldest daughter, Amy.

A framed photograph of Amy DonnellyRich Donnelly

“Dad, there’s something I have to tell you,” she said. “I have a brain tumor, and I’m sorry.”

Donnelly’s thoughtful and fun-loving 17-year-old was given nine months to live. Amy underwent chemotherapy and radiation and convinced her father she would survive, while organizing donations for younger children at the hospital.

Come fall, Amy felt well enough to attend Game 5 of the NLCS at Three Rivers Stadium, and gleefully watched her father repeatedly crouch, and cup his hands to yell to runners at second base.

On the ride home from the win, Amy jokingly asked her father what he says on the field:

“What are you telling those guys, the chicken runs at midnight, or what?” she said.

Amy laughed hysterically. The family did, too. She couldn’t explain how it entered her mind, or why it exited her mouth. The phrase became a family motto; written at the end of cards, uttered at the end of phone calls.

In Game 7, the Pirates fell one out short of clinching the pennant. Less than four months later — Jan. 28, 1993 — Amy died, with her father by her side.

“You can’t explain what happens when you lose a child. They’re the love of your life. Those are your babies,” Rich said. “It doesn’t matter how your son or daughter gets killed. They’re gone.

“So what do you do? You can blame everything, be bitter for the rest of your life, or you can take what they did in their lives and their legacy and spread it to help other people.”

Rich’s son, Tim Donnelly, and grandson Drew visit Amy’s grave.Rich Donnelly

On Amy’s tombstone, the family engraved words that could always make her smile — The chicken runs at midnight.

“It was just funny, and it stayed that way for five years and no one thought anything about it,” Donnelly said. “And then boom, got punched right in the stomach.”

By 1997, Rich was the Marlins’ third-base coach, and one win from a World Series title. In Game 7, Mike and Tim were batboys.

The score was tied in the bottom of the 10th inning and Craig Counsell — dubbed “The Chicken” by Donnelly’s sons months earlier, due to his unorthodox, arm-flapping batting stance — stood on third base.

When Counsell touched home with the championship-winning run, Tim ran to his father and pointed to the scoreboard clock, displaying the long hand barely past 12.

“Dad, look!” Tim screamed. “The Chicken ran at midnight!’”

Donnelly has spent over two decades sharing the story with the world, giving inspirational speeches and receiving moving responses. It became the basis for a song, the title of a soon-to-be released book, the backbone of a potential movie.

Last year, Donnelly retired from coaching, but after Mike’s death, he debated whether he wanted to return.

So, he asked Amy.

“I talk to her every day. When I have a tough decision, I ask her,” said Donnelly, who returned to Brooklyn after managing the Cyclones from 2011-13. “We understood one another. She was me, and we were so much alike. In the 17 years she was here, she was more like me than any of my boys.”

The sound didn’t register. Natalie Grumet thought it might be fireworks. Maybe it was from the stage, maybe the speakers.

“After the first round of gunfire, everyone knew,” Grumet said. “There was chaos.”

Leighanne and Tiffany Donnelly pose for a photo right before the Las Vegas shooting.Rich Donnelly

The Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Fifty-eight people were murdered. More than 500 were injured, including Grumet, who was shot in the face during the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre.

As thousands fled the site and bullets flew down from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, Grumet was on the ground. A stranger, Leighanne Donnelly, stopped, and laid next to her, removing her shirt to hold on Grumet’s bleeding face. Tiffany Donnelly did the same, helping a stranger who was shot in the stomach.

“We were all under fire, and she thought about me and comforted me,” Grumet said. “She was so calm and she kept repeating that I wasn’t gonna die. It really helped me stay calm, and I’ll always be grateful for that and how she stayed with me.”

Rich’s daughters were separated, yet shared the same instinct. Three months later, Mike would, too.

Rich and Tiffany DonnellyRich Donnelly

“She needed me, and it wasn’t even a thought in my mind,” Leighanne said. “You never know how you’re gonna act, but it is pretty amazing that was all of our reactions. We have a strong family, and my mom and dad taught us to help when we can, and do the best you can and that’s how we were raised. And I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.”

The four women survived. Again, Rich was humbled to know his children.

“I was speechless,” Rich said. “My kids did that? I shook my head. If that was me, I would’ve probably ran. I still can’t believe they reacted like that. The girls were gonna give up their lives to save someone else’s life. And my son did. It gives me the strength to do anything.”

Since Leighanne reconnected with Grumet through Facebook, they have become friends in California and seen each other several times.

“You’ve been through this with someone who understands the worst 10 minutes of your life, and it creates this immediate bond,” said Grumet, who is awaiting her eighth surgery. “She’s so loving and caring, and you can feel her heart radiating off her. The courage she has, she’s just an amazing person.

“People’s flight-or-fight kicks in, and some people are meant to be heroes.”

DonnellyAnthony J. Causi

Donnelly throws batting practice every day, just as the veteran Home Run Derby hurler did for several major league All-Stars.

He enjoys being surrounded by players younger than his grandchildren, whose Single-A struggles could end their careers. He wants to help and teach, and tells each one of them about his children.

The stories will never stop. They’ll continue long after Donnelly finishes telling them.

“I want to be in life like my kids were in death,” Donnelly said. “I want to be good to people. I want to be fair. I would hope if I had the chance to do the same thing as them I would do it, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough.

“I’ve heard the average age is 82. I got about 3,000 days left. Let’s see what I can do. I might die tonight, but I want to do something that matters every day.”

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