New Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stepped up for his first tee shot at Rick Honeycutt’s 27th annual youth benefit golf tournament and pulled a — what’s this? — University of Tennessee orange and white club cover from his driver?
“My first coaching experience was at UT,” Gonzalez said a few minutes past noon Tuesday at Battlefield Golf Club. “I started in 1987. I worked for Mark Conner coaching catchers and third base. As part of the deal I was taking classes in therapeutic recreation. I wanted to work with handicapped kids.”
What goes around comes around. Handicapped youth throughout northwestern Georgia long have benefited from Honeycutt’s tournament, which has raised nearly $400,000 through the years for a variety of charities and youth organizations.
And just to prove that anyone can help, 8-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers fan Zeke Jones pulled $100 from his savings account to buy a sign positioned near the No. 1 tee box that read “Go Dodgers.”
That sign quickly brought a smile to the face of Honeycutt, who’ll retain his job as Dodgers pitching coach next spring under new Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly.
“I just thought it would be cool to help,” said young Jones, who has two cousins with autism.
“And I wanted to meet Rick Honeycutt and Fredi Gonzalez.”
It wasn’t only Honeycutt and Gonzalez who brought the event its annual star quality. Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell also was there.
Asked whether or not he played a role in pushing Gonzalez — a former third base coach in Atlanta — to succeed retired manager Bobby Cox, McDowell grinned and said, “I’m just a little Indian. Chiefs made that decision. But I know Bobby always thought very, very highly of Fredi. Bobby wanted somebody to come in that would appreciate why things have been so good there for so long.”
A long time ago, McDowell and fellow former New York Met Keith Hernandez had cameo roles on an early episode of “Seinfeld.” The episode ran again last week on TBS following the network’s coverage of the major league playoffs.
“I still get residuals whenever that show runs,” McDowell said. “I don’t know when it runs, but I get a check fairly often. That was actually just the second season of the show, so it wasn’t that big a deal then. I don’t think anybody knew then what an iconic show it would become.”
So have his two daughters seen their father’s “Seinfeld” moment?
“They’ve seen it,” he said. “But I’m just some guy with a mullet [hair]cut to them. It might as well be ‘The Doris Day Show’ or ‘The Lawrence Welk Show.’”
The Braves have only one active player old enough to have worn a mullet, though Cox never would have allowed that from Chipper Jones.
But with the 38-year-old Jones recovering from knee surgery, one wondered if Gonzalez expects to have him in the lineup next spring.
“I hope he’s in the lineup,” he said. “He’s really working hard with that knee, and he’s the kind of guy you need out there, whether he’s batting .340 or .260. So I hope Chipper can come back.”
Both Gonzalez and McDowell firmly believe San Francisco can bring the World Series trophy back to the National League as the Series starts tonight.
“Any time you’ve got great starting pitching — and the Giants certainly do — you’ve got a chance,” McDowell said. “But as we saw in the playoffs, they’ve also got lots of ballplayers who can grind out at-bats. They really know how to hang around in games and make the most of one opportunity. They can definitely win the Series.”
Honeycutt spent the last three years working for Joe Torre, who won four World Series with the Yankees before heading west to manage the Dodgers until the end of this past season.
“Joe had a great calming effect,” Honeycutt said. “At the same time, he could be very tough. He expected your best. But what’s always made him special, I think, is that he really cares about people.”
A little like Honeycutt has always cared about the youth of North Georgia.
“Well, you’d never think 27 years ago that you’d still be doing something,” Honeycutt said. “But it’s kind of been like a reunion for me, with all the guys I played with at Tennessee, and all the guys we’ve added from year to year. Plus, the people here see what we do, how we put all the money back in the community. That’s what really makes this special.”
That’s what makes a 8-year-old boy empty his savings accounts to support his town’s local baseball hero.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...