Wiedmer: Classic 150's Honeycutt Toast a generous gift to youth baseball

Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, left, and manager Dave Roberts watch a game against the Colorado Rockies in Denver during the 2016 season. Honeycutt is a Chattanooga native who starred at Lakeview High School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., before going on to the University of Tennessee.

The typical Classic 150 fundraising event celebrating a famous athlete or supporter of athletics from the Chattanooga area is typically as much roast as toast, a perfect mixture of humble pie and high praise regarding the honoree of the evening.

In the case of professional baseball great Rick Honeycutt - who'll be feted Tuesday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center - the roast element of the program may be overwhelmed by the toast portion.

"Easiest job I've ever had is saying something nice about Rick Honeycutt," noted 87-year-old former major league manager and Baylor School grad Dave Bristol, who lives in Andrews, North Carolina.

"Oh, wow, where to start?" said Los Angeles Dodgers pitching great Orel Hershiser, who was a teammate of Honeycutt with the Dodgers in the mid-1980s. "He was my mentor and catching buddy in L.A. He played a very significant role in my career. One of the best pitching coaches in the history of the game. Just a terrific human being and friend."

Similar glowing words are expected to pour from the mouths of former major league player and longtime broadcaster Tom Paciorek and former major league reliever Jay Howell, along with video tributes from L.A. managerial great Tommy Lasorda, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, Major League Baseball chief baseball officer and longtime MLB playing and managerial great Joe Torre and current Dodgers pitching star Clayton Kershaw.

photo When local baseball legend Rick Honeycutt, second from left, was honored Tuesday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center by the Classic 150 group, he was presented with a shadow box highlighting his career, custom made by Alan Pressley, second from right. They are flanked by Andy Cronon, left, and Greg Underwood. / Contributed photo

"I've been a member of Classic 150; I know the good work they do," Honeycutt said when asked about this celebration of his baseball career, which spans more than 40 years and is still going, since the Dodgers have encouraged him to stay on as a special assistant after retiring as pitching coach this past fall.

"I'm definitely appreciative of this recognition. These are people I love so much, people I've played with and worked with and spent so much of my life with. Whether it becomes a roast or toast or whatever, I'm just very honored and humbled."

The good work the Classic 150 has done over the years normally has centered on its stated mission to "assist in bringing sporting events to our community that bring regional or national recognition to the city of Chattanooga."

Past such events have included the NCAA golf championship, the SEC women's basketball tournament and NCAA women's tournament, Spring Fling and a number of national amateur softball tournaments.

But what they intend to do for youth baseball players in our town at the Honeycutt Toast of Champions may be the nonprofit organization's most laudable effort yet.

The Classic 150 is going to admit, free of charge, all area youth baseball players who wish to attend Tuesday's gala in an effort to show them what channeling their dreams toward something as positive as baseball can do for a young person.

"The Classic 150 wants to do this because for youth today, there are so many opportunities to make the wrong turn in life," the organization's Mickey McCamish wrote in an email. "We at the Classic 150 want to use this event, the sport of baseball and these major league players to help our youth make the right turn in life."

Given that individual tickets for the gala run $125 with sponsorship tables for eight beginning at $800, the Classic 150's gesture toward our youth baseball community is a significant one. And with a speaking lineup of such quality people as Bristol, Honeycutt, Hershiser and Howell, there should also be plenty to inspire them.

photo Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, right, talks to starting pitcher Ross Stripling in the dugout during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

But then Honeycutt has been inspiring people since his days as a high school phenom at Lakeview, to his amazing career at the University of Tennessee - where he had a 2.88 earned run average his senior year and a career batting average of .377 - to his lengthy MLB playing and coaching career, which included the Lakeview Lefty never losing a postseason game and earning a World Series ring with the 1989 Oakland A's.

And had he not been forced to undergo back fusion surgery last February he might still be the Dodgers' pitching coach.

"But this past season was extremely tough to get through physically," said the 65-year-old Honeycutt. "There comes a time when you want to make sure you can enjoy the rest of your life and be somewhat healthy. This was that time. I needed to do what was right for me and my family."

So this spring will find him here in the Scenic City spending more time than ever before with his four grandkids: Haden, 13; Kendall, 10; Brooks, 7; and Lucas, 5. He's slowly getting his golf swing back. He's excited to see spring unfold in the Tennessee Valley for the first time in decades, since he's always been in Florida for spring training when the dogwoods, azaleas and daffodils bloom.

"I'll never forget I was home one spring when I was playing because I was recovering from arthroscopic surgery," he said. "We had a home on Signal (Mountain) back then and Debbie was driving me up the mountain. Everything was in bloom and I said to Debbie, 'How beautiful is this?' She said, 'What do you mean?' because she saw it every day. But when you're gone every spring, you forget things like that.'"

He said he never forgot how much he missed watching son Ricky and daughter Holli grow up.

"That's the one super negative to my career," he said. "You wish you could have been there instead of hearing about something wonderful they did or watching it on a video."

Everything worth attaining comes with a price. Unless, of course, you're one of our town's youth baseball players who can hear living legends Bristol, Hershiser and Honeycutt share their wisdom for free. In that case, the generosity of the Classic 150 is priceless.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Honeycutt Toast or to make reservations should contact Taylor Hurley at Derryberry Public Relations by email at taylor@derryberrypr.com or by phone at 755-7588.

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.