May 17, 2021

A Small Piece of the Brent Honeywell Story

April 11, 2021 by · 1 Comment 

It’s all over baseball today as the Tampa Bay Rays host the New York Yankees. Brent Honeywell, once the most highly touted pitching prospect in baseball four years ago, took the mound for the first time since 2017, when he suffered a long series of arm injuries. One of those injuries was particularly ugly, when he fractured a bone in his elbow, just from the motion of throwing the ball. “Was it the screwball?” the pundits asked. Honeywell threw that pitch–one that was discarded decades ago, and maybe taught to him by his uncle Mike Marshall who was a Cy Young reliever in 1974.

No one knows what caused any of it. It just happened and continued to happen. And yet there it was, that same screwball bravely being thrown past the best Yankee hitters without even a nick. What a gutsy kid he is. And he is only 26 years old. That is how young he was when he first stood on the precipice of stardom.

No one believed he would be back. The fourth and final injury argued that he was cursed, and no one must have felt that more deeply than Honeywell himself. But baseball is what Honeywell is about. There is nothing if there is no baseball.

I first met Brent Honeywell on the back side of the Rays’ minor league complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. I was working on a book about pitching with Dick Bosman, then the roving minor league pitching instructor for the Rays, one who had been in the game for more than fifty years. Bosman invented the slide step in the late 1980’s when the running game was a powerful part of the game, led by Ricky Henderson and a panoply of other speedy runners who racked up stolen bases like they were grapes for stomping. Demonstrating how it worked was just one piece of the book, but an important one.

Dick asked the Rays best pitching prospect–Honeywell–if he would demonstrate the slide step, because it was what Dick taught all of the young pitchers. I had seen that: Dick working on the mound with a dozen or more young pitchers as he illustrated how it was done, how to minimize the “pop time.” Pop time is baseball jargon for how many pieces of a moment it takes for the catcher to get out of his crouch and throw the ball to second base, hopefully before the runner reaches. Pitchers like Juan Marichal had famously featured huge and time-consuming kicks as they delivered the ball to the plate. Pitchers prized their unique styles and Dick was never able to convince them all. But all of the Rays pitchers listened and learned. Honeywell was just another of Dick’s students, though arguably among the best.

Honeywell dutifully demonstrated as I took time lapse photographs of him lifting his left foot just inches off the mound as he began his motion. The form he showed was perfect, and it was included in the book–page 116–of Dick Bosman on Pitching, by Rowman and Littlefield. I had watched Bosman working with the young guys for an entire day. He was a natural at working with talented young ball players, but I was a bit awed that someone with Honeywell’s talent would take time to help us with our project.

As we have come to learn, Honeywell’s humility is just one facet of the young man’s character. The key has been his resilience and grit. Surgery is not fun and four of them coming within just four years are difficult to imagine. How could one person maintain their faith in anything after it was tested to such ends? Each surgery, each rehab, was met with disaster and Honeywell had to start back at square one. Do not pass go, do not collect anything that might help navigate the board of life as you struggle to complete the cycle of coming back.

And yet here he is. Pitching against the Rays’ most hated rival, the New York Yankees, who are dripping disdain for anything that detracts from their imperial reign over the game. Which is why it must have been so satisfying to pitch those two perfect inning against them. Six batters, six outs. Two innings that will go into the record books as Brent Honeywell’s first effort. Everyone watching could feel the pride and excitement pouring off him as he quietly sat in the dugout after his day was done.

I loved the announcers commenting on how Honeywell pitched so efficiently, how he got the ball from the catcher and got to it, no wasted time between pitches. That idea is also something that Bosman taught. “Don’t make your fielders stand around waiting on you; throw the ball.”

Honeywell was a great student, a humble young man willing to learn from those who had been out on the mound in the major leagues before him. Watching the game, after Michael Wacha came in to pitch the third inning, it was impossible not to compare the two pitchers. Wacha is a product of another program, taught to pitch by the St. Louis Cardinals. He does not use the slide step and it showed. The first base runner stole on him easily. I am not here to condemn anyone, just to say that Honeywell is a perfect example of what it takes for an organization like the Rays to win when they have none of the money the Cardinals can command. Tampa Bay does it with coaching and with students of the game who are willing to learn. They do it with careful analysts like Dick Bosman who love the game as much as anyone.

And that is why the game of baseball is so much fun to watch and to study. There is so much subtle nuance one can discover with just a peek under the hood.

I know I am not alone in wishing Brent Honeywell the best of fortune in the years to come. But whether it all works for him the way he wants or not, he has learned something about baseball that other have not, and hence about life. Adversity is a demanding mentor, but there is something to going through it. You have to live it to know it. Give em hell, Brent. Beat those damn Yankees and enjoy doing it.

Comments

One Response to “A Small Piece of the Brent Honeywell Story”
  1. Roger Blacklow says:

    Where is Honeywell today?

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