The Los Angeles Dodgers completed their first series of the season on Sunday night, and all things considered it went about as successful as anyone could have hoped for.
For the most part, all the players are healthy and available, and their play on the field has reflected that, taking two of the first three games of series from the shorthanded San Francisco Giants.
Outside of the fans who are not allowed to be in attendance for the 2020 MLB season because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was noticeably one person in the Dodgers organization that was absent for the Opening Series.
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We're talking about former pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
Honeycutt held the role of pitching coach for the Dodgers for 14 years, the longest tenure in that role in franchise history. 10 of those 14 seasons resulted in the Dodgers reaching the postseason, including World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018.
Due to lingering back issues, the 66-year-old Honeycutt retired after the 2019 season, but agreed to a special assistant role with the team for the 2020 season and beyond.
Honeycutt was scheduled to visit the team during spring training at their facility at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. Unfortunately, those plans were impeded by the coronavirus outbreak, which shut down spring training in early March.
The Dodgers second spring training occurred at Dodger Stadium on July 1, but for health reasons Honeycutt was unable to attend.
"The Dodgers are going to hold their spring training in L.A., so they're going to get everybody in and make sure they follow all the health protocols," Honeycutt told ESPN Chattanooga at the end of June. "For somebody like me, there are other issues to consider. Do they want me traveling? How many people are going to be allowed around the players?"
The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely altered the Dodgers plans for Honeycutt. On Sunday, manager Dave Roberts said that originally Honeycutt was going to meet the team during stops on the road, but because of all the healthy and safety protocols implemented by MLB, those plans will now need to be amended.
"I know Honey is watching all the games. I exchange some texts with him," said Roberts. "The plan going forward was he was going to come with us on the road, stay in touch, watch the games, talk to Mark and the pitchers, watch some bullpens, but that's certainly not going to happen. It's going to be amended and abbreviated, but the most important thing is that he's watching and staying current."
I asked Roberts if there's a possibility that Honeycutt could still watch bullpen sessions or chime in during pitchers' meetings with the help of new technology like zoom video conferencing, but those plans are still being ironed out.
"For myself, I think there's still a lot of questions," said Honeycutt. "My role is still up in the air right now."
In the meantime, Honeycutt has been spending extensive time with his family and grandchildren in Chattanooga, where he admitted he plays golf four-to-five times a week, but still finds time to watch the Dodgers play every night.
"It's been a pleasure being home all this time," he said.
Dodgers' pitcher Ross Stripling, who earned his first win of the season on Friday night against the Giants, said that Honeycutt texted him after the game telling him "good job," and still remains in touch with the pitching staff via text.
Mark Prior (to the right of Honeycutt in the picture above), the Dodgers' bullpen coach from last season, took over Honeycutt's role as pitching coach. By all accounts, Prior has done a tremendous job navigating the pitching staff through this unusual year. With that said, Honeycutt's 43 years of experience in Major League Baseball is invaluable, especially during a shortened season.
Honeycutt was a pitcher in the league for the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics during the strike shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. He remembers those years well, but he conceded he's never been part of a 60-game season affected by a global pandemic before.
"I could never have imagined this," Honeycutt said to ESPN Chattanooga. "Win 40 games and you're usually headed home really early."
However, Honeycutt does have beneficial advice for the Dodgers and their pitchers after a short ramp up to start the season.
"A lot will depend on the health of the players, especially the pitchers, when you start out," he said. "The teams that have depth will have those advantages, and the Dodgers are one of those teams that have depth."
For now, Honeycutt will be forced to watch the Dodgers from the comforts of his couch at home, just like the rest of fans. Instead of being there in person, he intends to watch the Dodgers on television when they travel to Houston, Phoenix, and San Diego for their first, and longest road trip of the season.
Ordinarily, those road trips are bonding opportunities for Honeycutt and Roberts. They go out to dinner, drink wine, and break down video of opposing teams. For the first time in five years, Roberts will be without his right-hand man when the team heads out on their first road trip and is forced to spend a majority of their time confined to their hotel rooms.
"I like to binge watch shows," Roberts said when asked what he's going to do with all his free time in the hotel room. "There's going to be a lot of time in the hotel, but I'll be preparing for the Astros and the Diamondbacks."