How Cubs' Tommy Hottovy kept his family safe while battling COVID-19

How Cubs' Tommy Hottovy kept his family safe while battling COVID-19

The words caught in Tommy Hottovy’s throat as he tried to explain his experience to the patchwork of sports reporters’ faces on the screen in front of him.

“I went through some really weird stages through this whole process,” the Cubs pitching coach said Wednesday on a video conference, “like depression, thinking, ‘Did I do something wrong? How could I have put my family in that kind of situation?’”

It was the second time Hottovy had publicly addressed his month-long battle with COVID-19. The first had been earlier that morning on 670 The Score, and afterwards he and his wife Andrea shared an emotional moment. It wasn’t just the illness itself that shook them. The symptoms were staggering: a fever that spiked at night and made it impossible to sleep, strength and weight loss, viral pneumonia that required breathing treatments. But along with that came isolation, self-blame, and fear of spreading the virus.

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“I felt it was important for me to talk through what I went through,” Hottovy said, “because too much of what’s out there is the easy stories of what people go through with this. … Obviously it affects people differently. And if my story and my journey through this helps one person realize how severe this can get, and if that saves one life, then I want my story to be heard.”

Two weeks ago, Hottovy, 38, finally tested negative for COVID-19. He’d first experienced symptoms 30 days prior and was quarantined away from his family for that month. Their precautions worked. As Hottovy put it, “by the grace of God and (my wife’s) diligence in what she did to keep our family safe,” he didn’t pass the virus onto Andrea or their two young children Cameron, 8, and Chloe, 6.  

“What my wife had to --” Hottovy started. His voice cracked, and he paused to compose himself. “What she had to endure for a month, you just don’t want to put anybody through that.”

While quarantined, Hottovy was sequestered to a spare bedroom and a bathroom. If he wanted to step outside, his family would clear the house and he’d hurry out and back in, taking care not to touch anything.

Because he wasn’t allowed in the kitchen, Andrea would bring him food and water. To cut down on her trips, Hottovy had a cooler set up in the spare room so he could keep himself hydrated.

Hottovy’s symptoms worsened at night, so he adjusted his sleep schedule. He was awake from midnight to 6am.

“Every night I’d get up at like 2, go downstairs and my wife would still be cleaning,” Hottovy said. “Every night for like 30 days.”

His mind would run wild some of those nights, analyzing every move that could have led to him contracting COVID-19. Did he forget to wash his hands after going to the store?

“What you risk putting your family through, for me was something that was hard and I dealt with,” Hottovy said. “But my wife just said, ‘Look, we did everything we could. We wouldn’t change anything. We wouldn’t take anything back.’”

Separated from his children for a month, Hottovy’s FaceTime usage spiked. His kids knew they could use the iPad to call Dad whenever they wanted. Hottovy also had a special quarantine chair outside.

“I would sit way away from the kids, masked up even outside,” he said, “and just be out there just to watch them, laugh with them and watch them shoot hoops and do things like that.”

There were times Hottovy considered opting out of the season. He has developed antibodies through the process of fighting off COVID-19, but the virus is so new that there’s no definitive proof that antibodies guarantee immunity.

In the end, Hottovy decided he wanted to be a resource for the team. He stresses the importance of supporting families during this unprecedented season, and not just the families of players who test positive for COVID-19.

“We’re going to go on six-day road trips, eight-day road trips and 10-day road trips potentially too,” Hottovy said. “There’s concern being gone that long away from your family. Do they have the resources they need, the families that are here? … What if one of our family members gets it while we’re on the road? As an organization, do we have things set up to help them? I think we’re doing that, and I think we’re getting through that process.”

As of Wednesday morning, the Cubs had announced just two recent positive COVID-19 tests that are expected to delay two Tier 1 staff members from joining camp. On Monday, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described those two staff members’ symptoms as “mild.”

No players had tested positive, but most of their intake screening results were still pending. It’s entirely possible that at some point this season, one of the players Hottovy works with tests positive for COVID-19. He may have a family and battle the same doubts that Hottovy did.

For advice, Hottovy points back to his wife’s wisdom.

“I think that’s the one powerful message for us right now, is, we’re doing everything we can,” Hottovy said. “It’s not going to stop everything. There’s guys that are going to test positive. And we have to be able to be flexible and be able to adjust throughout that process.”



Cubs Talk Podcast: Will 4 days off help or hurt the Cubs?


Cubs Talk Podcast: Will 4 days off help or hurt the Cubs?

With the Cardinals being shutdown by MLB for a COVID-19 outbreak in the organization, the Cubs had an impromptu four days off after stringing together one of the best records in baseball so far. Will having the days off help or hurt them going forward?

David Kaplan and Gordon Wittenmyer discuss the Cubs' impromptu weekend off, Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger breaking protocol and going out in Chicago, and a 'what if' scenario that could have changed the Cubs getting Aroldis Chapman in 2016.

(1:20) - Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger breaking safety protocol to go out in Chicago

(7:09) - Cubs get four days off due to the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak

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(9:30) - Is David Ross following in the steps of Joe Maddon with some of his methods?

(16:00) - How will MLB fix the missing games that teams will have at the end of the season?

(18:40) - Cubs wanted Andrew Miller initially, not Aroldis Chapman in 2016

Listen here or below.

Cubs Talk Podcast




Jason Kipnis enjoying 'fun ride' with Cubs, but 2016 World Series still stings

Jason Kipnis enjoying 'fun ride' with Cubs, but 2016 World Series still stings

A peppy voice shouted from offscreen, drawing Jason Kipnis’ attention away from the pregame Zoom setup in front of him. Kipnis chucked as he spotted Mike Napoli, his former Indians teammate and current Cubs quality assurance coach.

“Ask this guy about 2016,” Kipnis said to the reporters on Zoom as Napoli bobbed into frame.

“It was the greatest year of our lives,” Napoli shouted.

At least Kipnis had someone with him who knew what it was like to lose to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.

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Kipnis returned to Progressive Field on Tuesday, for the first time since he signed with the Cubs as a free agent in February. In the Cubs’ 7-1 win against the Indians on Tuesday, Kipnis hit a double and scored a run on a wild pitch. It was his first time in a decade-long career facing Cleveland.

The Indians had drafted Kipnis in 2009. He’d made his major league debut with the club two years later. And he spent nine seasons in Cleveland.

A “homey vibe” hit him as the Cubs touched down in the airport Tuesday and drove to their hotel. Familiar views greeted him.

What was new was walking to the ballpark from the hotel, going through a different entrance.

“I'm actually being steered to probably a few hallways I didn't know existed,” Kipnis said.

He’d been to the visiting clubhouse before but never to the batting cages or weight room. He was seeing a new side of a building that he’d called home for so many years.

Plus, he was doing it in Cubbie blue. One of his most agonizing experiences at Progressive Field had come at the hands of the Cubs. His current teammates had made up the young core of that 2016 World Series Cubs team.

“I’ve already had Rizzo walking me through, ‘I celebrated here, I celebrated here,’" Kipnis said before the game. "I’m like, ‘Thanks, buddy. I get it.'”

Kipnis said there was never a real path for him to return to the Indians for this season.  Asked if the option was closed off on his end or the teams’, he said, “My phone never rang, I’ll put it that way.”

Instead Kipnis, a Northbrook native, joined his hometown team. Over the summer, Kipnis posted on Twitter that being a Cub was still a “mindf*ck” at times.

When he and the Indians lost World Series Game 7 at home, after blowing a 3-1 series lead, 99 percent of Kipnis was “absolutely crushed.”

But he said one percent could “look back at the field the last second be like, ‘Hey, at least it's the Cubs.’

If the Indians were going to lose, at least it was to a team with a 108-year World Series drought.

Kipnis likens his feelings about playing for his hometown team this year to that ratio. He’s overwhelmingly excited about representing Chicago and playing for his friends and family. One percent of him aches every time he sees the 2016 banners or World Series highlights, neither of which he can escape in Chicago.

“I have to keep reliving it,” Kipnis said. “… It sucks, but it was a fun time in ’16, and I don’t regret anything about it”

This year has been Kipnis’ first experience switching teams. He’s been locked in a position battle at second base with Nico Hoerner and has been efficient in limited at-bats. In seven games, Kipnis is batting .368, with five extra-base hits. He kept the ball from his first home run as a Cub.

“When you get back into that hunter mentality, it's fun,” Kipnis said, “because then you push yourself to stay at it. You might not feel great some days, and you normally might have taken a day off or something to rest the body, but now you just find a way to get something productive done that day.

“And I think especially coming here in Chicago, where I know now I have even more family and friends watching games, and friends of friends, everything, it's been like a little bit more motivation to stay on top of myself.”

The COVID-19 pandemic ensured that Kipnis would get to play his former team this season. Regular season schedules became regional, so the NL Central Cubs play the AL Central Indians four times this year.

But the pandemic also ensured that Kipnis wouldn’t be able to greet fans in person, or his former teammates and coaches how he’d like to – some of them with “bull-rush” hugs.

“I've invaded these guys personal spaces for about nine years,” Kipnis said. “I think I can take a day off from giving them a hug.”

The Indians played a tribute video for Kipnis before the game. Players and staff members applauded him. Kipnis stepped out and waved his hat at the empty stands.

Like much of this season, Kipnis’ return wasn’t anything like he could have imagined when he put pen to paper back in February. But at least publicly, you won’t hear any complaints from Kipnis.

“It's been such a fun ride here so far,” he said.