BROOKLYN, N.Y. - After more than 40 years in professional baseball, Rich Donnelly admits he's excited about ''being in charge and being responsible for a team.''
The 63-year-old Steubenville resident recently was named manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Class A affiliate of the New York Mets. The Cyclones, founded in 2001 (44 years after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles), compete in the New York-Pennsylvania League and play their home games at MCU Park, the centerpiece of historic Coney Island.
''It just kind of happened, all of a sudden,'' Donnelly said of his new baseball opportunity. ''I get a call from Adam Wogan, director of player development for the Mets, telling me I was highly recommended by Terry Collins, manager of the Mets, and John Ricco, the assistant general manager, for an opening in Brooklyn.''
Donnelly said he spoke with Wally Backman, a legendary player with the Mets and the 2010 Cyclones manager, before deciding to accept the position.
''I realized this was a great opportunity to get back into baseball,'' Donnelly said. ''It's a rookie team but it is run like a major league club. The Cyclones are owned by Fred Wilpon, the owner of the Mets. They draw anywhere between 7,000 and 9,000 for home games. They expect to win.
''I'll have Frank Viola (a standout during his major league days) as my pitching coach. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it sounded great. It sounded like something I'd like to do.''
The 2011 season will be the 11th in franchise history. Last year, the Cyclones finished with a 51-24 record, the best in the NYPL and went an eye-popping 30-8 at home. Brooklyn captured the McNamara Division crown, its fifth title in 10 seasons. In addition, the team led the league in attendance for the 10th straight season with an average of 7,147 fans per game.
NYPL teams play a short season, starting on June 17 and ending Sept. 4. Donnelly will be heading to Port St. Lucie, Fla., the spring training home of the Mets, after he returns from a special trip to Chicago.
''I will be in Port St. Lucie during March, April and half of May,'' he said. ''Once the draft happens in June, we'll put the team together with players already in Florida and those selected in the draft.
''Most of the players I'll be dealing with will be getting their first taste of pro ball. Players are players whether they are 28 or 21. I'm excited to see the enthusiasm of those coming right out of college. We also should have some good players from Latin America.''
The new Cyclones skipper said the Mets field two Class A teams, one playing out of Port St. Lucie and the other based in Brooklyn.
''The older kids probably will go to Brooklyn, the others will stay in Florida,'' he added.
During his baseball career, Donnelly has worked with the likes of Jim Leyland, Buddy Bell, Grady Little and Bobby Valentine. He has coached some all-time legends including Nolan Ryan, Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds and Nomar Garciaparra. He's even been a member of a World Series championship squad as the third base coach who waved in Craig Counsel with the winning run for the Florida Marlins in game seven of the 1997 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
''I'm ready to go,'' Donnelly stressed. ''I always said that after 28 straight years in the big leagues, if I ever went back to the minors, I wanted to be in charge, be responsible for the team. I'll have that opportunity in Brooklyn and that's pretty neat.''
Area fans will have the opportunity to see Donnelly and his Cyclones when they visit the Mahoning Valley Scrappers this summer. The squads will play three games (Aug. 12-14) at Eastwood Field in Niles, located on the ground of the Eastwood Mall. The Scrappers are the NYPL affiliate of the Indians.
''Everybody I've talked to since said they will be there,'' Donnelly noted. ''If everyone comes that says they are going to come, we'll have 2,000 people there. It will be great to see some of my friends.''