Hottovy on COVID scare: 'It's still kind of raw'

July 1st, 2020

CHICAGO -- It has been roughly two weeks since Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy learned that he was once again negative for COVID-19. He is back to making the trek to Wrigley Field, beginning to watch pitchers throw off a mound in person and preparing for the upcoming season.

While all of that fits into the bucket of good news, Hottovy wants people to know just how real and frightening the coronavirus crisis can be for individuals and their families. In a Zoom call on Wednesday morning, Hottovy fought back tears and needed more than a minute to collect himself before detailing his month-long battle with the virus.

"It's still kind of raw," Hottovy said, "the fact that we just got through it and to relive it, you know ..."

Hottovy paused and apologized to reporters as he gathered himself.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hottovy went on 670 AM The Score in Chicago and revealed for the first time that he first tested positive for COVID-19 about six weeks ago. What followed was a physical and mental battle, as he quarantined himself away from his wife and young children. Talking about it unleashed a wave of emotions for both Hottovy and his wife.

Now that Hottovy has been cleared by doctors and the abbreviated Major League season is approaching, he feels that his story is an important one. Maybe it helps someone re-evaluate their behavior. For his players it emphasizes the need to take the COVID-19 protocols and precautions seriously.

"If my story and my journey through this helps one person realize how severe this can get," Hottovy said, "and if that saves one life, then I want my story to be heard, you know?"

Hottovy is 38 years old and in good physical shape, so he is not someone who would be considered in a "high risk" category. Regardless, he and his family had been following guidelines by wearing masks, social distancing, washing their hands regularly and sanitizing items brought into their home.

Even with those steps taken, Hottovy began experiencing symptoms and opted for a test three days in as things worsened. When the results showed he was positive, he moved into an extra bedroom in his home. He kept a cooler filled with ice for drinks, used a separate bathroom from his family, and if he wanted to go outside for some fresh air, his family left the house, and he did not touch anything on his way out.

Hottovy said the first half of his monthlong fight was the worst period -- he experienced a high fever, shortness of breath, body aches and an inability to sleep. He limited himself to FaceTime calls with his kids, who sometimes left it on so he could just hang out while they played. They set up a "quarantine dad seat" outside, where he could sit (with a mask on) and be with them from a distance.

The family could order food easily enough, but they had trouble finding enough cleaning supplies online. Hottovy relied on friends and neighbors to bring things they needed, and his wife would stay up into the early-morning hours, cleaning the entire house.

"By the grace of God and by her diligence in what she did to keep our family safe," said Hottovy, emotions flooding back, "her and my kids didn't get it."

Hottovy dealt with depression, blaming himself at times for bringing the virus into his home, even without knowing the source.

"I went through some really, really weird stages through this whole process," he said, "thinking that, 'Did I do something wrong? How could I have put my family in that kind of situation?'"

Hottovy did go to a hospital at one point midway through his fight. He stayed for eight hours for tests and treatment, and was sent home with a breathing apparatus to help get medicine to his lungs. He said the feedback from the doctors was that other people with his same symptoms required a ventilator, but his age and physical condition helped his body fight back.

The emotions that poured out on Wednesday were not there during his Zoom calls with Cubs pitchers throughout the ordeal. On one call, though, a coughing fit for Hottovy forced manager David Ross to take over the discussion. The players could see the discomfort Hottovy -- who lost 18 pounds -- was in as he continued to meet with them.

"They saw my sheer emotions of just what I was going through," he said.

There was a point when Hottovy was convinced he would probably opt out of the upcoming season. That stance has evolved as his condition has improved (he is still dealing with mild breathing issues) and due to the belief that his experience can be valuable to players and others around the Cubs.

Players reporting to Wrigley Field this week have been undergoing COVID-19 testing and antibody testing. General manager Jed Hoyer said earlier this week that a pair of Tier 1 staffers tested positive prior to traveling and would be delayed in joining the team. Tier 1 consists of players and other on-field personnel, though in this case the staffers were not players. The first team workout is scheduled for Friday.

"Having gone through it and having lived it to an extent," Hottovy said, "I do think it's important for me and our family to be accessible to these guys and be ... I don't want to say be an example, but be someone that they can use as a resource through this whole process."