#Shortstops: The Chicken Runs at Midnight

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Brooklyn Del Barba

Nicknames and baseball go hand in hand. The game would not be the same without players like “The Great Bambino”, “The Wizard”, “Cool Papa Bell” and the list goes on and on.

But how about the nicknames some players might not even know they have?

In 1997, the sons of the Florida Marlins third base coach Rich Donnelly privately bestowed rookie Craig Counsell with the nickname “The Chicken Man” due to his unusual batting stance. With hands held high and a generous bend in his back leg, the second baseman would flap his arms as he awaited the pitch like a chicken at the plate.

“The Chicken Man” was not the only inside joke in the Donnelly household. Years earlier in 1992, Donnelly was coaching with Pittsburgh. The Pirates were playing the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Rich’s daughter, Amy, was in attendance for the game, sitting on the third base line. Amy and her friend spent the whole game guessing what Donnelly tells his base runners. On the way home from the game, Amy joked that when her father bent down to coach the runner on second he probably used a code phrase such as “The chicken runs at midnight.” The family got a kick out of the suggestion, but had no idea how that thought got in her mind.

However, the phrase stuck with the Donnelly Family, especially between Amy and her father, as it was a substitute for “I love you.” As the team headed to Atlanta for the remaining games of the NLCS, Amy stayed at home. At the time she was battling a brain tumor, undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Before the first pitch of Game 6, Donnelly got a special delivery. The clubhouse attendant handed him a piece of paper with “While You Were Out” labeled on the top.

The message: “The Chicken Run’s at Midnight” from Amy. The Pirates won Game 6 that night and Amy watched from home as the team used her phrase as their battle cry. She knew the Pirates were only one win away from the World Series.

Ultimately, the Pirates lost Game 7 – and three months later Amy lapsed into a coma and the battle for her life came to an end. Her headstone reads: “The Chicken Runs at Midnight.”

Fast-forward to 1997, Donnelly found himself coaching for the Florida Marlins as they defeated the Atlanta Braves to capture the National League Championship. With a date to play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, Donnelly and The Fish were poised to take home a ring.

The Series came to an exciting climax on Oct. 26, as the Marlins and Indians began the seventh and final game of the 1997 World Series. The Indians took an early 2-0 lead, but the Marlins managed to tie the game on Counsell’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.

With one out left in the bottom of the 11th inning and the World Championship at hand, both Counsell and Donnelly found themselves at third base. Marlins shortstop Édgar Renteria laced a single to center field on the second pitch and Donnelly was able to send the Chicken home with the winning run. The time? Just past midnight.

Brooklyn Del Barba was the 2018 special events intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series