D-backs scout on daughter's brave battle

June 18th, 2021

PHOENIX -- Steve Connelly is a proud man. A longtime baseball scout, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Connelly has always been a private person and not one who shares his problems or asks others for help.

But if there's something Connelly loves more than baseball, it's his family -- his wife Linda and three children Haley, Madison and Steven.

So when he realized that 18-year-old Madison needed help, well, there's simply nothing Connelly wouldn't do for her.

Madison was diagnosed a year and half ago with CMT4J, an extremely rare neurological disorder somewhat similar to ALS. CMT4J is a rare subtype of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which affects both motor and sensory nerves. There are only about three dozen reported cases of CMTJ4 worldwide and no treatment for it.

Because the disease is so rare, Madison must sometimes travel as far as the University of Iowa to see specialists. The disease has taken away her ability to walk and the use of her hands, and she requires a special wheelchair. That prevents her from flying, so the Connellys need to buy a specially equipped van.

They also need to make some more adjustments to the downstairs of their North Carolina home so Madison can stay on the ground floor. For a while, they were able to handle the financial burden. But as the expenses piled up, Steve faced a difficult decision.

"When you see how much these vehicles cost, it blows you away," Steve said. "I didn't know what we were going to do. That's when a buddy of mine told me, you know, you're going to have to swallow your pride and do whatever you can for your daughter. And that's when I started this GoFundMe page."

The response has touched Steve and Linda deeply.

The list of donors is filled with names that would be familiar to even casual baseball fans. Players that Steve has signed over his time in the game have donated. Baseball executives and fellow scouts have stepped up as well.

"In times of need, the baseball community sticks together," Steve said. "But it's been overwhelming to tell you the truth. It really has been very humbling. You've got young scouts, I don't even know some of these young scouts, donating $100. It's amazing, their generosity."

The D-backs organization has helped as well with some of the bills, going so far as to put a chair lift in the Connelly's home to help Madison get upstairs.

Steve gets emotional when he thinks about what the organization has done, from managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president/CEO Derrick Hall to general manager Mike Hazen and assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye. And don't get him started on the support he's gotten from his dear friend and boss, scouting director Deric Ladnier and the rest of the Arizona scouts.

"The Diamondbacks put that lift in my house," Steve said. "How about that? You know, that wasn't cheap. And they did that, you know. I mean, it was unbelievable. I will forever be thankful to them. That organization? I'm never going to leave a place like that as long as they'll have me."

Meanwhile, as the Connellys look to raise funds, Madison greets each morning with a smile. She never complains and rarely thinks she's had a bad day.

When you consider that throughout her life she's battled autism and a bipolar disorder even before CMT4J, it makes her outlook all the more remarkable.

"She goes, 'Daddy, I've got the best life in the world,'” Steve said. “I'm not one that cries you know, I mean, but when she says something like that ..."

Steve and Linda were married 19 years ago and since their honeymoon, the two have only been away together one time. That was when Steve's brother remarried a couple of years ago.

As an amateur scouting supervisor, Steve travels on his own quite a bit, and he realizes the burden that puts on Linda.

"My wife is strong," Steve said. "I mean it takes its toll, but she's been so strong."

Because there's not a lot known about CMT4J, the Connellys don't know what to expect each day. At one point Madison’s hands were doing OK; then within a few weeks, they just stopped working.

While the days can be a struggle, the Connellys have learned so much from Madison's outlook, and they draw strength from her spirit.

"You know, who are we to be worried and sad when she's so happy even with all she's going through?" Linda said. "It's such a blessing that she looks at it that way, because I don't want her worried all the time. I have to do everything for her now, like turn on her computer, but she's OK with it. Everybody these days is like 'Feel sorry for me,' but not her."