PORT CHARLOTTE — If all goes well in the years to come, the details of this day will have been mostly forgotten. The ball he tossed to his father in the bleachers. The way he kept tapping his heart during the final notes of the national anthem. The large group of Rays teammates that came out of the clubhouse just to watch him pitch, and the hugs they shared in the dugout afterward.
Brent Honeywell Jr. has always had the grandest of expectations, and neither four elbow surgeries nor three years on the sidelines have diminished that. So, no, a single inning of work against Boston in a spring-training game will not grace the first chapter in any future bestseller.
And yet, there was something special about Monday afternoon. Something worth noting for a pitcher who was once near the top of baseball’s prospects lists and, to the average fan, is now more of a curiosity than a sure bet.
It was one inning, five batters and 15 pitches. Unless, of course, it turns out to be the start of something greater.
“This is going to be a story that people remember for a long time,” his father, Brent Honeywell Sr., said. “I know in my heart what the kid can do. And there ain’t a major leaguer out there who can walk the walk like this kid.
“Today, I couldn’t have been more proud of him.”
If you are unfamiliar with the story, Honeywell was seven pitches into his first opportunity to face big-league hitters during a live batting practice session in spring training in 2018. On his eighth pitch, a ligament in his right elbow tore and he cursed loudly as he threw his glove to the ground. His father, who pitched three years in the Pirates farm system, was standing on the other side of the fence and knew immediately what happened. Tommy John surgery followed five days later.
He was back in Port Charlotte rehabbing the following summer with his brother Carson shooting video on his phone. Working in the bullpen before a game, Honeywell threw a pitch and crumbled to the ground. A bone in his elbow had snapped with the force of his delivery.
“He said, ‘Daddy why is this happening?’” his father recalled. “I said, ‘Well, unfortunately it’s God’s story, not our story. You’ve got to believe that you’re going to be fine.’”
The setbacks would continue to come. Nerve issues forced a third surgery in May of last year, and then arthroscopic surgery was needed to clean up some scarring and other problems in December.
“There’s no way he could have done it without the mentality he has,” said Rays pitcher Chris Archer, who was there the day of the initial injury. “One of the surgeries, you can remain confident. Two? Most people start to waver. And anything more than that, a lot of people would have just given up. But Brent Honeywell, his heart is a baseball. That’s all he wants to do with his life. So there was no way he was going to give up.”
The confidence that once seemed brash for a 22-year-old when he was No. 14 on Baseball America’s prospects list in 2018 came in handy in the years to come. That confidence morphed into a type of resolve. And that resolve kept him steady during the monotony of continual rehab.
Teammates who had gone through their own injuries were struck by Honeywell’s perpetual optimism. He became a favorite in the clubhouse, and players would gather round to watch him throw on the back fields earlier this spring.
“I knew, even from the first day I went down, I was going to get here one way or the other,” Honeywell said Monday. “I’m still going to do what I’ve got to do to be the best I can be and try to be the best pitcher in the game here soon. That’s just who I am, and that’s what I want to do.”
Monday was just the next step. He didn’t pause to measure the significance, and he didn’t allow himself to get overly emotional even though his parents drove down from Georgia and his grandparents and brother were on hand, too.
Honeywell, who turns 26 at the end of the month, retired the first hitter on a grounder off a 95 mph fastball, and then gave up a run on a walk, a single, and a groundout. Of his 15 pitches, he threw 10 for strikes and his fastball was consistently in the 93-95 mph range.
“He didn’t look like a rehab pitcher,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s a healthy pitcher.”
The arthroscopic surgery in December put him behind the rest of the staff, but Honeywell acted as if his ascension to the big leagues this season is already a foregone conclusion. Based on how he’s been pitching on the back fields, no one disagrees.
“If he keeps pitching like he’s been pitching and … recovering how he’s been recovering?” pitcher Tyler Glasnow said. “I don’t see how he wouldn’t contribute soon.”
It was just one afternoon, and one inning. Hardly worth remembering at all.
Except there may come a day when the world wants to know how Brent Honeywell Jr. pulled this off. And that’s when he’ll have a story to tell.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.