At the height of Tommy Hottovy’s illness, Cubs manager David Ross had to take over the pitching coach’s duties on his regular video conference with pitchers.
“When he spoke, he couldn’t get two words out without coughing,” Ross recalled Friday, before the Cubs’ first day of Summer Camp.
Hottovy, 38, battled the novel coronavirus for a month, while baseball was still on hold due to the pandemic. He finally got his first negative test back a few weeks ago. Hottovy was upfront about his condition with the pitchers, and on Friday Ross said he wanted Hottovy to speak in a team meeting.
“Just because he is such a powerful resource,” Ross said. “… He’ll be a god guy to go to if guys have questions.”
Hottovy’s story includes a fever that kept him awake from midnight to 6am every night, viral pneumonia that required breathing treatments, a trip to the hospital that he packed a bag for in case he had to spend the night.
Hottovy was isolated from his family for a month, sequestered to a spare bedroom their house, and he still felt guilty for putting them at risk. Those precautions kept his wife and two young children from contracting the virus from him.
“It’s very scary, and it’s awesome for him to share his story with us,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of people unfortunately who have gotten this and were not able to tell their story, were not able to see their families for one last time. And it’s unfortunate. You can’t take days for granted.”
Utility man Ian Happ stayed in Arizona after MLB shut down Spring training in March. He lived with Cubs reliver Dakota Mekkes during that time.
“Dakota would be on the pitchers calls,” Happ said, “so you kind of got to walk the journey with Tommy a little bit and check in on him as he was going through it. And I think his experience, his story, it’s incredible. Not testing negative for 30 days and the impact that had on his family and everyone around him, I think it really puts it into perspective.
“It tells guys how serious this is and how cautious we need to be. Not just for ourselves, but for our teammates, their families and for everybody who’s working hard to be here for us.”
As far as COVID-19 testing goes, the Cubs opened Summer Camp on an encouraging note. League protocol restricts Ross from saying if any Cubs have tested positive, but he did say he expected all players who were scheduled to report Friday would be in camp. Two staff members did recently test positive at home and were expected to miss the beginning of camp, general manager Jed Hoyer announced earlier this week.
League-wide, only 1.2 percent of players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of intake screening, including 31 players. The league’s 101-page 2020 Operations Manual is designed to keep that number low. But the health and safety protocols are only as good as the clubs’ compliance.
“Every single person in the organization,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “every player, ever staff member, everyone in uniform, out of uniform, we all have to make great decisions, exercise great disciple, hold each other accountable, collaborate, go into it with an open mind and exercise real personal and collective responsibility.”
If that message wasn’t already clear, Hottovy’s experience put it into sharp focus.