BEES 5, CORNBELTERS 4: Honeycutt’s Goodbye Was ‘Storybook’

By John Bohnenkamp

Chase Honeycutt taped a reminder on his bat.

The catcher was playing his last game of the summer with the Burlington Bees. He’s going back to his home in Mississippi, without a college baseball home for next season, an uncertain future in a game that promises nothing.

“Last game here,” Honeycutt said. “Could be the last game ever.”

The goodbye was going to be difficult, so Honeycutt wanted to make sure to absorb, and embrace, all of the final moments.

That’s why he made the reminder to himself, and he made sure to look at it.

Take it all in. 

The lasting image Honeycutt took was of his teammates racing toward him as he stood at second base. Honeycutt’s two-run single capped the Bees’ four-run comeback in the ninth inning of the 5-4 win over the Normal CornBelters in Friday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

“Surreal,” Honeycutt said.

“It’s basically a storybook, right there,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said, smiling as he recalled what had happened.

Honeycutt got the chance he asked for in the seventh inning, after his infield popout for the second out of the inning. That F-5 in the scorebook wasn’t going to be his farewell.

“I looked at everybody and said, ‘Let me get another at-bat. Do everything you can to give me one more at-bat,’ Honeycutt said. “They did, and luckily I came through.”

Still, he didn’t know if that chance would come.

Which is why Honeycutt stood at home plate when the top of the ninth ended on Bees left fielder Kevin Santiago’s diving catch of a fly ball from Normal’s Jared Comia. Honeycutt stood, nodding with approval, and then stopped to look around the field. He walked slowly to the dugout, stopping to shake hands with plate umpire John Alexander.

Take it all in.

For Honeycutt to get his final at-bat — he was due up fifth in the inning —  a lot had to happen.

A lot did.

Nick Tampa led off the inning with a single to right field on a 3-2 pitch.

“That was the (at-bat) right there,” Oreskovich said. “Tampa saw the spin on the breaking ball the pitch before, knew he was going to get a fastball, and got a good swing on it.”

Dawson Estep was next. His grounder up the middle looked like it was going to be a double play, but Normal second baseman Will Henson bobbled the ball, and everyone was safe.

“You put the ball in play, something can happen,” Oreskovich said.

Trey Adams then walked to load the bases.

“He spits on a high pitch, then draws the walk,” Oreskovich said.

Back to the top of the order. Honeycutt, batting second in the lineup, was going to get his at-bat.

“At that point, I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to win it,’” Oreskovich said.

Honeycutt, standing in the on-deck circle, started scanning the crowd. His parents, his grandmother and grandfather, were among the 553 in attendance.

Take it all in.

Honeycutt had two hits and reached on an error in his first three plate appearances. The first three at-bats were against starter Austin Collison, whose off-speed pitches had kept the Bees from mounting little offense in his five innings. Honeycutt had seen just enough fastballs from reliever Coby Rogers in his seventh-inning plate appearance to speed up his bat.

“That first guy was really slow,” Honeycutt said. “The second guy had a better fastball, and luckily had enough pitches to be geared up for it.”

Sam Monroe then pounded a single into right field to score Tampa and Estep, and when right fielder Wilson Zuck bobbled the ball, Adams and Monroe were able to advance to third and second.

“I had a feeling if he came up with a chance to win the game, that’s how it’s supposed to go,” Oreskovich said. “It’s supposed to go that way.”

Honeycutt jumped on a fastball on the third pitch he saw from Spencer Smith (0-3). The line drive carried into the left-center field gap, and Adams and Monroe raced home with the tying and winning runs.

Honeycutt slowed as he rounded first base and watched the scene develop. And as he reached second base, he did a victory stomp of his feet as his teammates erupted from the dugout.

Take it all in.

“It was, honestly, a dream come true,” Honeycutt said. “It was amazing. I couldn’t picture anything better.”

“He got a pitch he could handle,” Oreskovich said. “And he smoked it.”

Oreskovich kept smiling at the thought of what he had just seen.

“Great kid,” he said of Honeycutt. “I love the kid.

“I think it means more to him than anything. I think it means the world to the kid. In this world, it’s tough. You never know if that at-bat could be his last at-bat ever. You never know. And I think it means the world to him.”

It was one of those nights that Oreskovich said could “flip the script.” The Bees struggled in the first half, and an 0-2 start to the second half could have just added to the disappointment.

“We were talking about it during batting practice,” Oreskovich said. “Guys were saying, ‘Second half, new me.’ Now we realize we have a chance.”

Honeycutt was late getting into the clubhouse after the game. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye, staying out on the field for some final photos.

Take it all in.

He thought about his two seasons with the Bees, his summer home while playing at Jones (Miss.) College.

“It brings back fun in baseball,” Honeycutt said. “Great guys in the locker room. You get to meet new people. You get to meet people from around the country.

“It’s a great experience that I’ll never forget.”

Photo: Chase Honeycutt is doused with water after delivering the game-winning hit in the Burlington Bees’ 5-4 win over Normal. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

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