Steubenville native Rich Donnelly, the new manager for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Seattle Mariners Triple A affiliate, and a spring training coordinator for the Mariners, told the Steubenville Kiwanis Club there's no one on Earth prouder to be from Steubenville than he is.
As the guest speaker at the club's Feb. 4 meeting held at the YWCA of Steubenville, Donnelly talked about the Pirates and expressed appreciation for his hometown and the many positive athletic influences it fostered.
A Catholic Central High School graduate, Donnelly had been manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the New York-Penn League short season affiliate of the New York Mets, since 2011. He played baseball at Xavier University and spent 14 seasons (1986-1999) on Jim Leyland's staff with three organizations - Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. In 1997, he earned a World Series ring with the Marlins.
Rich Donnelly, left, guest speaker at Steubenville Kiwanis Club, and Dave Mosti, February program chair
-- Janice Kiaski
Donnelly was signed as a catcher by the Minnesota Twins in 1967 and played four seasons in the minor leagues, compiling a .230 career average with two home runs and 115 RBIs. He managed in the Texas Rangers' minor league system in the 1970s and 1980s and was a base coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2000s.
Donnelly was introduced by Tom Timmons, who said, "He's a great guy and been a friend of mine for a long, long time, and we're lucky to have him here."
With more than 40 years in pro ball, Donnelly joked that that figures out to having thrown more than 1 million pitches in batting practice; coaching in as many as 7,000 big league games; and hearing the national anthem 10,000 times.
"You know the Pirates had a great year this year. They got back to where they were when we were there. (Former Pirates manger) Jim Leyland, we had three great teams in '90, '91, '92, so this is the first year that they've been back to the playoffs, and you could see the people in the area, us included, we're all very hungry to get back. It was pretty neat," he said of the Pirates performance.
"This area was starved for baseball. They're going to be good this year, and when you've got the MVP on your team and guys like Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole and Neil Walker, you got a great future here. I think everything's going to be good here as far as baseball is concerned," Donnelly told the Kiwanians.
"Everyone is used to the Steelers and Penguins - the Pirates have been like an afterthought for 20 years. It's hard to believe that the last team that even got to the playoffs was our team in '92," he said.
But things are "real good now" in Pittsburgh, home to the "beautiful (PNC) ballpark," according to Donnelly.
"I've been to all the ball parks across the country, probably the most beautiful parks that you could ever imagine," he said, mentioning how Sophie Masloff, who served as Pittsburgh's mayor from 1988 to 1994, was thought to be "out of her mind" when she suggested that Pittsburgh needed two ball parks.
"We were at Three Rivers at the time. She said we need a football stadium and a new baseball stadium, and they all thought she was nuts, and well, she's pretty smart. You see what has happened over the years," Donnelly said.
Bucco times haven't always been so great.
"Back when we first came here in 1986, Jim Leyland took over, and I was fortunate enough to be a member of his coaching staff," Donnelly said, "and I remember the first time I saw him. I pulled up to Pirate City in spring training, and I had about six suitcases. He said, 'What the heck you doing, I only got a one-year contract,'" he recalled.
"We were bad, and he (Leyland) said we're going to be real bad, and I want you to know this before we start," he continued playfully. "I knew we had some indication that we were going to be bad when on opening night, Doc Gooden is pitching for the Mets, and there are 50,000 people there, and everybody is all fired up at the Buccos and Jim Leyland, he is going to be good manager," he recalled, setting the stage for a comment from Mike Brown, then starting right fielder for the Pirates. With the playing of the national anthem, Brown turned to Donnelly and said: "Every time I hear this song I have a bad game."
The Kiwanis laughed as they did to other Donnelly commentary.
"One day I brought Jim Leyland down here, and our dearly departed friend Goose Taylor got a chance to meet Jim Leyland, and he (Taylor) walked up to Jim and said, 'Your catcher is so bad, he couldn't get a singles at Wendy's.' I mean we were horrible," Donnelly admitted.
But things started to turn around.
"We started getting some guys like any Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek and Barry Bonds, and from '90 to '92, even though we didn't get to the World Series, we were the best team. We just got beat by flukes," he said.
The Pirates finishing .500 last year for the first time in 20 years is "unbelievable. Five hundred means you got a decent team."
Donnelly said as a kid, his sports heroes weren't from Pittsburgh or Cleveland.
"They went to Central, they went to Big Red, and they played for the College of Steubenville," he said. "My heroes were guys like Joe Press, Calvin Jones, Jim Smith who played for the Barons. These guys were my heroes."
Donnelly recalled when he got a job with the Pirates in 1986, it just so happened that Bill Virdon, a center fielder on the Pirates 1960 World Series winning team, was on the coaching staff. A still starry eyed Donnelly told Virdon how much he had been impressed by him in his youth.
Ditto for Pirates legend and Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski from Tiltonsville, whose home run clinched the Pirates' win over the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.
Donnelly said he would tell his mother that he'd play in the big leagues some day. "She said, 'You're a dreamer," and you know what? It's OK to dream."
Growing up in Steubenville, Donnelly said he got to play with or against some local greats who went on to sports fame - a list that included Danny Abramowicz, Harry Wilson and Chip Coulter.
Donnelly also said he was fortunate to be coached by the likes of John Nese, Chuck Watt and Ang Vaccaro. "How fortunate was I to be taught by these guys," Donnelly said.
"So my experience here in town has been phenomenal. I'm so fortunate, so lucky to have been brought up in this town," Donnelly said. "We've taken a lot of hits, but this is home and I've been everywhere in this country, and I am so happy I was brought up here, and I'm so proud of it."
Donnelly's talk included time for questions, which included his opinion of instant replay and the designated hitter rule in Major League Baseball.
Instant replay is OK, he said, "as long as it doesn't interfere too much with the game" and that it's done quickly.
As for the designated hitters, Donnelly said, "I am an old no-DH guy. I have come to say the fans want the DH, and I think eventually it's the only sport in the world where the two leagues (American and the National) play two different rules. Eventually we'll have the DH in both leagues."
Donnelly sang the praises of Andrew McCutchen, center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Neil Walker, the Pirates' second baseman.
Asked if Pete Rose will ever get a chance at being named to the Hall of Fame, Donnelly said he personally doesn't like Hall of Fames, but thinks that Rose should be among the honorees.
"I think if you are going to be in, you should be in on what you did on the field," Donnelly said. " What he did, 4,000 hits, will never be broken, never, and how he played the game and how he inspired our eraI think he influenced more kids than almost any other player in our era," he said.
President George Pugh presided at the Kiwanis meeting where Larry Coleman and Phyllis Riccadonna reported on their attendance at a Kiwanis division meeting held Feb. 3. The meeting's outcome was plans for the merger of Kiwanis clubs in Division 21 and Division 25 (Trumball County), to become Division 23, effective Oct. 1.
The Steubenville Kiwanis Club is part of Division 21 which includes clubs in Austintown, Boardman, downtown Youngstown, east side Youngstown, Toronto and most of Mahoning County.
The merger would bring in clubs from Warren, Newton Falls, Niles, Hubbard and Girard, Coleman explained.
Riccadonna noted that out of both of those division, Steubenville's club is the biggest.
"That says a lot for Steubenville because these other clubs they have the potential of really recruiting a lot more people than we do," she said. "I think we ought to take pride in what we do here in Steubenville, and I know we're all proud to be a Kiwanian."
Effective in October, the division meetings will be held monthly instead of quarterly with all meetings held in Canfield.
Ross Ivkovich, Steubenville High School Key Club adviser, introduced his Key Club guests Justin Corsi and Paul DeFrances.
Dave Mosti is program chair for February. Casey Peters of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County was to speak at today's meeting.