Divine Providence is always at work and, more often than not, beyond our ability to predict or understand it. Rich Donnelly was the third base coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1985 to 1996. When he was inducted into the Sports Faith International Hall of Fame, he shared this story with me about his daughter Amy.
In 1992 during spring training, Rich received a call from Amy. She said, “Hi Dad, I have something to tell you. Dad… I have a brain tumor… and I am sorry.” He sat there momentarily stunned by the news, then said, “What do you have to be sorry for?” But that was Amy – always thinking about others. A week later, she had surgery. When the operation was over, the surgeon told Rich and his wife that they were not able to remove the entire tumor and that she only had about nine months to live.
They were crushed by the news, but resolved to fight it. Amy immediately began treatment while Rich continued working to support the family. The Pirates were scheduled to play the Atlanta Braves for the National League pennant. The chemotherapy was taking its toll on Amy, but she never showed it and flew up to see the fifth game of the series. As they were driving home after the game, Amy asked, “Dad, when you have a man on second base and you get in that stance of yours, in the third base coaching box, and cup your hands around your mouth and yell out to him, what are you telling those guys, ‘The chicken runs at midnight, or what?” Rich said, “What? Where the heck did you get that one?” Amy laughed, “I don’t know it just came out.”
The next day, Amy went back to continue her treatment. When Rich arrived in the dugout for the seventh game of the Championship Series, he was handed a message that read, “The chicken runs at midnight. Love Amy.” Rich had told Amy before she left, “If we make it to the World Series, you are coming!” With one out to go, the Braves rallied from behind and ended up winning the game on an RBI. Rich’s season was over. No World Series for Amy.
The next three months went all too fast. Amy’s condition had worsened and on January 23, 1993 Amy passed away. Shortly after the funeral, the Donnellys went to the cemetery to pick out the marker for Amy’s grave. Rich said, “The people at the cemetery wanted to put all of these flowery phrases on her tombstone. We said, ‘No, no, no! We are going to change things up. We want you to put The chicken runs at midnight on her gravestone.’”
It was extraordinarily difficult to cope with Amy’s death, but the Donnellys did their best to go on. Rich continued as the third base coach with the Pirates for two more seasons before moving on to the Florida Marlins with team manager Jim Leyland. The Marlins had only been in existence since 1992, but by 1997 they found themselves in the playoffs against the Atlanta Braves. This time, Rich was on the winning side as the Marlins won the series 4-2.
The 1997 World Series was one of the most exciting ever played. The Marlins won the first game, and the Cleveland Indians took the second. Back and forth they went, trading wins until they arrived at the decisive seventh game. Into extra innings they went, and in the bottom of the eleventh with the score still tied, the Marlins came to bat. Leading off with a single, the second batter was then out. Craig Counsell followed, reaching first. The Indians decided to walk the next batter. Bases loaded, Devon White hit a ground ball and another out occurred at home plate. Edgar Renteria then hit a high bouncing ground ball right towards the pitcher, but he was unable to stop it from sailing into center field – a hit! Counsell ran home and the Marlins won the World Series.
Counsell was nicknamed “Chicken,” by Rich’s son Tim because he flapped his elbow before every pitch. When Counsell landed on home plate, the fans and players went wild. Rich said, “All of a sudden I see my son, Tim and he’s running at me. Something is wrong. He’s crying. He’s screaming. Something’s wrong. I’m thinking he should be happy but he’s screaming and crying. I shout above the roar, ‘What’s wrong?’ He says, ‘Dad, look!’ ‘Look where,’ I say? He says, ‘Look behind you!’ I look around to see the stadium clock; it’s twelve o’clock! Tim said, ‘Dad, the chicken runs at midnight! The chicken runs at midnight!’”
The “Chicken,” Craig Counsell, had scored the winning run at midnight, just as Amy had said four years earlier. Amy’s death and her prophetic line forever changed Rich Donnelly. He said, “Amy taught me that here are two kinds of people in the world, those who are humble, and those who are about to be. In my life, it was ‘about to be.’ My ego had gotten out of hand and it’s a shame that it took her death to bring me down to where I could say, ‘Hey, you ain’t what you think you are. It’s not about you. It’s about everyone else. It’s about doing the right thing.”
After the celebration ended, Rich and his two sons sat in the car thinking about Amy. Rich pulled out Amy’s note that he always carried in his pocket. Rich still carries Amy’s note in his pocket to this day. She is with him night and day reminding him that there are no accidents, only Divine Providence.