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World Series Heroes Reunite In Milwaukee
by Mike Berardino
MARYVALE, Ariz.--They are back together again, the World Series hero and the man who waved him home on that magical night six and a half years ago.
Craig Counsell will play shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers this year, his boyhood team. Rich Donnelly, a baseball lifer, will be in the third-base coach's box.
No doubt Amy Donnelly will be with them as well, her spirit looking down and smiling at their renewed collaboration.
This is a story about fate, providence, whatever you want to call it. This is a story about a father's love and a daughter's memory and a crazy statement and a young player's greatest moment, the sort of moment that ties everything together.
"It's an amazing story, a truly great story," Counsell says, "and it should be told more."
The story begins with the 1992 National League playoffs. Donnelly was coaching third for the Pirates. Amy and a friend came to one of the games against the Atlanta Braves.
Amy, then a high school senior in Arlington, Texas, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that spring. Chemotherapy had caused her hair to fall out. Some days were better than others.
Driving back to the hotel after the game, Amy asked her father a curious question. Unique among third-base coaches, Donnelly will cup his hands and shout instructions to the baserunner at second just before each pitch.
"What are you telling those guys?" Amy asked. "Are you saying, 'The chicken runs at midnight' or what?"
Everyone got a good laugh out of that one, and the phrase became an instant family motto. When Amy died the following January, those five words were engraved on her tombstone.
Fast forward to the 1997 World Series. Donnelly, now coaching third for the Marlins, is back in the playoffs for the first time since Amy's death.
Counsell, acquired from Colorado in a trade that July, is playing a scrappy second base for the Marlins. His distinctive, flapping-arm batting style has even earned him a nickname in the Donnelly household: The Chicken.
A Fateful Eve
On Oct. 26, the night of Game 7 at Pro Player Stadium, Tim Donnelly, the coach's youngest son, was in the Marlins dugout as a batboy. Mike Donnelly, another son, was in the stands.
When Edgar Renteria delivered his Series-winning hit in the 11th inning, it was Counsell who bounded home from third. It was Donnelly who windmilled his left arm like a madman.
As young Tim rushed into his father's arms, he was crying and yelling, "Look at the clock!"
It was one minute after midnight. The Chicken had run home.
"I'm not really sure how you even explain the story," Counsell says. "It's one of those stories that's too amazing to be made up."
Another year and a half went by before Donnelly let Counsell in on the story. He sent the player, by now with the Dodgers, an article detailing Amy's battle and comment and their connection to that unforgettable night in South Florida.
Later in 1999, after the Lifetime Network produced a 30-minute special about Amy Donnelly, Counsell received a tape in the mail. He popped it in the VCR and had an immediate reaction.
"I remember," he says, "just crying my eyes out."
Counsell still sees the show from time to time when he's flipping around the dial. Each time he feels the same lump in his throat.
"It brings tears to your eyes for anybody who watches it," he says.
Counsell became a father last year. Young Brady is 10 months old and doing fine.
His arrival only made Counsell appreciate his role in the Amy Donnelly story that much more.
"I believe in fate," he says. "I think that's a little stronger than fate, though, that one. That's like fate in its ultimate form. It gives you chills. It seems like it's a higher power sending you a message."
"Allowing Amy to speak to her family," he says. "It was like God speaking to her family. That's pretty awesome."
Donnelly feels the same way about having Counsell back in the same clubhouse. They have been apart for five seasons, but their connection remains strong.
"It's great to have him back," Donnelly says. "He's a winner. He's got two rings. He plays the game right. He's the ultimate baseball player."
The baseball lifer smiles and shakes his head at the latest twist in a game that never ceases to surprise. Who ever would have thought the old coach and the World Series hero would hook up again?
In Milwaukee, of all places, thanks to an offseason trade with the Diamondbacks.
"For a kid who grew up in Milwaukee, who grew up at County Stadium, to be able to play for this team is a dream come true," Counsell says. "Just another one of those things that has happened to me in my career that makes me pinch myself and makes you realize you're pretty darn lucky and you've been blessed by playing this game."
Fate. Providence. Whatever you want to call it.
"The Chicken is back," Donnelly says, truly amazed.
Long may he run.
Mike Berardino is national baseball writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.