Look, he knows how big the shoes are — but new Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly doesn’t care because he has very large feet.
Donnelly — who spent his playing career in the minors, but has been a Major League coach for the Rangers, Marlins and Pirates organizations — is poised to succeed former Met great Wally Backman, the most-popular manager in Cyclone history.
Opening day is Friday night against the hated Staten Island Yankees.
“I know Wally Backman — heck, he recommended me for this job,” Donnelly, 63, told me, the dean of the Brooklyn Cyclones press corps, in an exclusive interview last week. “Wally Backman has size 6 feet, so I’m not worried.”
Brooklyn fans loved Backman’s jousts with umpires and his loyalty to his players. But they will also love Donnelly, who has showed plenty of passion in a career that includes winning a World Series as a coach with the Marlins, and winning a Class A title as manager of the Gastonia Rangers in the 1970s.
Want a little dose of Donnelly? Consider this: As skipper of the Wichita Aeros in the Double-A American Association, he was once thrown out of a game and suspended for a week for throwing a ball at an umpire.
That’s good, but consider what happened next:
“There was an abandoned railroad car out beyond the right field fence, so I asked the team owner if the suspension only meant that I couldn’t physically step in the ballpark. He said it did, so I managed from the boxcar, flashing signs to my coach.”
But to really understand Rich Donnelly, you have to know about the chicken.
Back in 1992, Donnelly’s 17-year-old daughter Amy was diagnosed with cancer. Before she died, she once asked her father, then a third-base coach with the Pirates, “Dad, when there is a runner on second, and you cup your hands around your mouth, what are you yelling at those guys on base? That the chicken runs at midnight?”
At the time, he just laughed. Later that year, his daughter died of brain cancer at age 18.
Four years later, Donnelly was the third base coach for the Marlins. In the deciding Game 7, Craig Counsell, whom fans often called “Chicken Wing” because of his odd batting stance, got on base. Later in the inning, he raced past Donnelly with the winning run.
Donnelly looked up at the clock — it was just around 12 am.
The chicken had run at midnight.
“I don’t believe in miracles, but that story will always be a miracle,” he said. “It’s too coincidental to be anything else. It’s like someone put their hands on my shoulder and shook me to get my attention. And the message humbled me. There is two kinds of people: humble people and those that are about to be.”
Humility is one thing, but results are another. The Cyclones have not won a title since 2001 — and Brooklyn doesn’t like losers.
As such, Donnelly knows that winning is important to Brooklyn.
“I don’t tell the guys, ‘Go out and play hard.’ Hell, I can get a truck driver to come in here and play hard. We’re here to win the championship,” he said. “Around the league, people hate the Cyclones because they are jealous of our success, drawing big crowds and having good teams. Well, I don’t care because I don’t send my players out there to lose.”
Brooklyn Cyclones vs. Staten Island Yankees at MCU Park [1904 Surf Ave. at W. 17th Street in Coney Island, (718) 449-8497], June 18, 6:30 pm; June 19, 5 pm. For info, visit www.brooklyncyclones.com.