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Former Pro Makes It All the Way Home | Business

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Former Pro Makes It All the Way Home
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ATLANTA -- Former pro Heath Honeycutt had some healing to do before returning to the sport he loves.

"It took me a long time to get back into baseball," Honeycutt said. "I was very dejected and upset that I did not really leave on my terms."

The Georgia Tech alum now lives and breathes baseball as owner of Ninth Inning Baseball in Chamblee, where he trains the next generation of athletes.

"I love every second of it," he said. "I love to see the guys with the same love and excitement in their attitude that I had when I was playing."

Honeycutt played for the Chattahoochee High School Cougars in Alpharetta and then went on to Tech, where he was the only player to start every game in 1998. He was named the Yellow Jackets MVP.

In June of that year, he was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 4th round of the MLB Amateur Draft.

The following year, while assigned to Class A Brevard County, he suffered the first injury of his professional baseball career. He considers it his most devastating injury.

"I was having a great first full season," he said. "It was the late part of the summer and call-ups were two weeks away."

Honeycutt was playing the Blue Jays affiliate when he swung through a curve ball and felt a pop in his lower back.

"I continued the at-bat and hit a ball to the right field gap," he said. "I began to run to first base, but I never made it. My back and leg gave out halfway to first, and I fell on the ground."

He later learned that the GM told his father that night that he would be called up in September.

"My father never mentioned that to me until after I retired," he said. "Thanks, Dad!"

He suffered his second injury in 2000 while playing Class AA in Portland, Maine. He tore his rotator cuff.

Four months later, he got hurt, again. This time, he almost lost his sight after being struck in the eye by a foul ball while batting.

"I found myself in the hospital for seven days blind, with doctors telling me they didn't know if I would be able to see again," Honeycutt said. "That was a very emotional time in my life. I remember laying there praying that I could see again so I could play with my kids someday. God answered that prayer!"

He suffered his final injury after flying to Australia to play winter ball that year.

He broke a bone in his left hand during his first week there.

"I had surgery, rehabbed that hand back and finally played a full season," he said. "Of course, I was not fully healthy, but I wasn't going to tell anyone. That was sort of the beginning of the end of my career. In baseball, if you get older without at-bats and playing history, you get passed by. That's what happened to me."

Honeycutt left baseball in 2003 and returned to Tech to earn his Bachelor's of Science in Management.

He began a new career as a building contractor and tried to put his playing days behind him.

But the baseball bug bit, again, when he got a call last year from his former coach at Chattahoochee High School.

Coach Tim Lemons asked Honeycutt if he'd coach Chattahoochee's Varsity Fall Team.

"I was very reluctant to do it, but he didn't give up," Honeycutt said. "I thought to myself, 'Hey, your career is over. Give something back, suck it up, and move on.' So I did, and I loved it."

Now Honeycutt's back, and he's making baseball his full-time business.

In May, he launched Ninth Inning Baseball, an instruction and training facility for young players.

"We all understand that not everybody wants or has the ability to make it to the Big Leagues, but our focus is to help kids enjoy this great game at any level," Honeycutt said.

Ninth Inning also offers team instruction.

"This is something that I believe is not only helpful for the kids, but also helpful for the dads and volunteers that coach," he said. "We will come out and help with the organization and implementation of the practice so coaches can help teach the kids proper mechanics and keep them engaged with different stations."

Honeycutt said it's rewarding and even therapeutic to be surrounded by baseball, again.

"I have learned my craft from some of the great players and coaches in baseball, past and present," he said. "I feel like giving back to these kids is my duty to the game. I was selfish to wait so long to get back."

Honeycutt also works as a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays. He said he sees a lot of kids with a lot of talent.

"They come to us because we have been there and know what it takes to go pro," he said. "My dad always told me that if you want to play professionally, you have to work harder than everyone else everyday, and don't let anyone else out there want it more than you."

He encourages parents to support their kids and let them have fun.

"Enjoy every minute. Period!" he said.

Honeycutt lives in Dunwoody. He is married with two children, Brett and Elle, ages 4 and 1. His wife, Tara, is also an athlete. She played tennis at Western Carolina University.

"I believe we will encourage our children to do what they love and want," he said. "If Brett is interested in baseball, then I will be there to support and teach as much or as little as he wants me to. If he is anything like his old man, he won't want to listen to me anyway."

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