If Steve Connelly didn’t exist in real life, a screenwriter eventually would have created him.
“He has the New York accent,” Billy Blitzer, the longtime Cubs scout who also possesses such an accent, said in a telephone interview of Connelly, the Diamondbacks’ amateur scouting supervisor. “He’s got the chip on his shoulder. He’s stubborn, but if he’s your friend, he’ll do anything for you.”
“He called me a scumbag and I still hired him. Several times,” Deric Ladnier, the Diamondbacks’ director of amateur scouting, wrote in a text message.
Yes, Connelly is revered for his authenticity, his true grit, the Astoria native having made quite the impact in the game he always has loved. And when family adversity compelled Connelly and his wife Linda to publicly ask for help, the Connellys witnessed that reverence first-hand.
Madison Connelly, Linda’s and Steve’s 18-year-old daughter, suffers from CMT4J, a rare genetic disease that leads to significant immobility. Madison relies on a specially built wheelchair and, with so little known about this affliction, often has to travel by van (the wheelchair’s size prevents her from flying) from the family’s North Carolina home to the University of Iowa, which employs specialists who possess the best grasp of managing it. She hasn’t eaten solid food in about a year.
“There’s no cure for it,” Connelly said of the disease. “We’ll just pray for a cure.”
The expenses add up, which is why the Connellys decided to launch a GoFundMe page that has raised over $100,000 so far.
“People that I grew up with, people in New York who I haven’t spoken to in a long time, high-school teammates, they made donations when word got out,” Connelly said. “It’s been amazing.”
Connelly played catcher for Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in Queens, then for three different colleges, including Queensboro Community College, before coaching at LIU Brooklyn, Cardinal Hayes and Christ the King. In 1998, he became an area scout for the Brewers and also worked for the Royals and Blue Jays before joining the Diamondbacks under Lanier, with whom he also worked in Kansas City. His two proudest signings on the amateur side are Royals reliever Greg Holland and Padres outfielder Wil Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year with the Rays.
“He is the old soul of scouting that will not change the way he was brought up in the game,” said Ladnier, who added Connelly’s favorite work phrase: “You are only as good as your opinion.” In 2013, Connolly received the Turk Karam Scout of the Year award from the New York Pro Scouts Association.
Steve met Linda, a North Carolina native, on assignment while in the Tar Heel State and they have been married for 19 years; Madison has an older sister, Haley, and a younger brother, Steven.
It hasn’t been an easy life for Madison, who is autistic and has battled bipolar disorders even before her diagnosis about a year and a half ago. Nevertheless, her parents marvel at her upbeat nature. “Her personality, it’s infectious,” Steve Connelly said of his daughter. “With all the different doctors she sees, she’s so polite. She’s always upbeat. She’s smiling, She’s a special kid.”
The product, clearly, of special parents. With Steve’s job requiring him to travel a fair amount, Linda runs the family and leads the way in caring for Madison. “She’s the real trooper here,” Steve said of his wife.
Steve, though, makes the most of his time when he’s off the clock. “As you know, you have to get to know him, but I trust him with my life,” Linda said of her husband. “He’ll do anything for his family, anything and everything.”
“Heart of gold,” Ladnier added. “One of the most caring people I have ever met. Just make sure you bring your boxing gloves when you get him going.”
Nothing gets Connelly going, in a different way, like his family, which appreciates the considerable support it has received from the baseball community, New Yorkers and many others. Said Connelly: “It’s very humbling, it really is.” It’s not surprising, though, to those who have crossed paths with him.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Howard Rotblatt of New York City: A 1963 episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” features legendary manager Leo Durocher playing himself and an actor portraying the Dodgers’ general manager at the time. Name that Dodgers GM.
Before the Yankees and White Sox face off August 12 at the “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa, the pop-up field will host a game between a pair of 14U teams, one from New York and one from Chicago. The New York team will come from DREAM, formerly Harlem RBI.
Just Baseball is a new sports media company on the Den of Geek Network. Among the contributors is Mr. Marlin (and brief former Met, if you recall) Jeff Conine.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Buzzie Bavasi.
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected].