Very nice article today by Juan C. Rodriguez, the Marlins writer with the Sun-Sentinel. The article gives a difficult story — about an 18-year-old brain tumor victim, Amy Donnelly, daughter of former Marlins coach Rich Donnelly — a local connection. It explains how Donnelly and current Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez made a connection. Sanchez also has lost a child. In his case, an infant son named Alan Sanchez, to a viral disease. Alan had been born exactly one year after Sanchez had pitched a no-hitter on Sept. 6, 2006.
Stories like this make me care less about the outcome of games and more about the people who play them. Despite our perceptions about their health and wealth, even athletes at the top of their sports are not immune from tragedies and heartaches, especially those involving children. Off the top of my head, just those with Marlins connections, the list includes Preston Wilson, Derrek Lee, Ryan Dempster and now Anibal Sanchez.
Something else about the list of ex-Marlins, decide for yourself if you note anything ironic, bittersweet or just evidence of faith. I’ve cut & paste a portion of their Bio’s from MLB.com:
- Derrek Lee – Created a foundation in 2006 to fight Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a degenerative disease that results in loss of vision … the effort, entitled “Project 3000,” includes a plan to raise money to provide state-of-the-art genetic testing for every man, woman and child in the United States with LCA – about 3,000 individuals in all. … Recognized as the Cubs Roberto Clemente award winner in 2007, an award given annually to players who combine outstanding skills on the field with devoted work in the community. … Awarded the Major League Baseball Player’s Association “Heart and Hustle” award for the Cubs in 2006 and 2007. … Also works to bring baseball to the Chicago community through RBI Baseball (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).
- Preston Wilson – Began the “Preston’s Pals” program in South Florida when he was a member of the Marlins…won the 2003 Rockies Good Guy Award as voted by the local BBWAA…was the recipient of the Marlins 2000 All-Heart Award, presented to the player who best exemplifies the team’s commitment to the South Florida community…during his tenure with the Marlins, Wilson founded “Preston’s Pride” and “Preston’s Operation: Back to School,” programs to provide for under-privileged and at-risk children…served as a spokesperson for the South Florida Blood Banks Sickle Cell Program…created a scholarship at his high school to help students pay for college…has also helped various programs such as the African American Council of Christian Clergy’s “A Dream Come True” program, Sharon Robinson’s “Breaking Barriers” program, Adopt-A-Classroom and Make-A-Wish Foundation…is the stepson of former New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson and is the godson of former Reds and Mets star George Foster.
- Ryan Dempster – Was named one of the 99 “Good Guys” in professional sports by The Sporting News in 2001. © Received the 2000 James “Tip” O’Neill Award, presented annually by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to the Canadian baseball player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of baseball. Was the Chicago Cubs nominee for the Roberto Clemente award in 2006 and 2008, which is given annually to the major league baseball player who combines outstanding skills on the field with devoted work in the community. His charitable endeavors in 2003 included assisting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids. Following the 2001 season, he was presented with the All Heart Award by the Florida chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America – given to the Marlins player who best exemplifies the team’s commitment to the South Florida community by making a positive impact and by serving as a role model for others.
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here’s a link to another article about Amy Donnelly from Tim Kurkjian.
Juan C. Rodriguez’s article is copied in full at end of post.
Bound by tragedy, ex-Marlins coach Donnelly supports Sanchez from afar
Both know heartache of losing a child
By Juan C. Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel
4:33 PM EDT, May 24, 2010
On Wednesday morning, a 63-year-old former big league coach from Steubenville, Ohio, will scan the box scores. Among the first names he’ll look for is that of a 26-year-old Venezuelan right hander.
Rich Donnelly hasn’t spoken with Anibal Sanchez since April 2009, when the Marlins played in Pittsburgh. The encounter was brief, but powerful enough for Donnelly to feel like he gained a son.
These two baseball men from divergent backgrounds are forever linked because of the tragedies they endured. Both lost a child.
Sanchez, who will start Tuesday’s series opener against the Braves, in 2007 watched his infant son, Alan, succumb to Dengue fever, a viral disease spread by mosquitoes. The following spring Sanchez was speaking with former Marlins coach and fellow Venezuelan Luis Dorante, and Donnelly came up.
In 1992, Donnelly’s 17-year-old daughter, Amy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. During the playoffs, Amy attended one of the National League Championship Series games between her Dad’s Pirates and the Braves and took note of his unique crouch and cupped hands over his mouth when directing baserunners.
Amy later asked her father if he was yelling, “The chicken runs at midnight.” Amy died that January.
Five years later, Donnelly was the third-base coach for the Florida Marlins. Craig Counsell was known as the chicken in the Donnelly household because of the way he flapped his right arm in the batters’ box.
When Counsell scored the World Series-winning run, Donnelly’s son, Tim, told his Dad to look at the clock. It was 12:01. Just as Amy predicted, the chicken ran at midnight and Donnelly got the World Series title he was unable to share with his daughter in 1992.
“Luis Dorante told me and I said I’d like to see the DVD and he got it for me,” said Sanchez, of a Lifetime special on the Donnelly story. “I saw it and it made an impression on me, that a child could predict the future. It was practically predicting what was going to happen…It’s amazing. I went through the same thing [losing a child] and know what you feel.”
During spring training 2008, Donnelly and Dorante were roommates. One night Sanchez happened to call Dorante, who took the opportunity to pass the phone to Donnelly.
“We talked and he said he watched the video and it really helped him and his wife during this tough time,” said Donnelly, who now resides in Los Angeles. “My job the next year was to be in the dugout for every home game with the Pirates. When the Marlins came into town I told Luis I wanted to meet him.”
That meeting occurred at PNC Park last April. Sanchez was jogging when Donnelly introduced himself.
“I popped out and just said, “Hey, I’m Rich Donnelly,'” he said. “When I said that, boy, he teared up real bad and we both hugged. He thanked me for that video. He told me about his son and pulled of his shirt and showed me a picture of his son on his right shoulder. He said, ‘Every day I pitch my son is with me.’
“I told him, ‘It’s wonderful I got to meet you. I will be a fan of yours forever. Every time you pitch it will be like my son pitching.’…Because we both lost our kids and through these times we went through, we said we’ll be bonded forever by this.”
Added Sanchez: “He’s a great person. We spoke about the loss of a child and what comes next. It’s not easy to pick yourself up from that, how to start your career again. He told me to keep working and he would keep tabs on my games.”
Donnelly stays busy with public speaking engagements, but he really wants to return to coaching. He emphasized to Sanchez carrying on his son’s spirit through pitching. Alan would have wanted him to be a great competitor.
In addition to the trauma of losing a child, Sanchez went through the career uncertainty associated with undergoing shoulder surgery. He gave some thought to quitting baseball, but now he realizes he honors his son’s memory every time he takes the mound. Donnelly drove home that point.
“It’s difficult to continue in a moment like that,” Sanchez said. “If I left it I wasn’t going to come back. I decided to take the step forward.”
A 63-year-old coach from Steubenville, Ohio couldn’t be happier.
Juan C. Rodriguez can be reached at jcrodriguez@SunSentinel.com