Carew makes emotional return to baseball field
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Back on a baseball field for the first time since a near-fatal heart attack last September, Rod Carew had no doubt about his next stop."As soon as we get guys in the (batting) cage, that's where I'm headed," the 70-year-old Ha...
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Back on a baseball field for the first time since a near-fatal heart attack last September, Rod Carew had no doubt about his next stop.
“As soon as we get guys in the (batting) cage, that’s where I’m headed,” the 70-year-old Hall of Famer said Saturday as Minnesota Twins full-squad workouts opened. “I came here to work. I didn’t come here to just do nothing and walk around. I’m looking forward to it.”
Carew had heard about the red “Heart of 29” T-shirts Twins players and staff would be given, but he didn’t realize everyone would be wearing them in his honor upon his arrival.
“To come out and walk in the locker room and see all the guys wearing these shirts, (it was) kind of emotional,” Carew said. “I don’t want to get emotional on the baseball field because there’s no crying in baseball. It’s a great tribute.”
After flying in from his home in southern California earlier in the week - “Long day, but good flight” - Carew and wife Rhonda got settled in for a few days. He skipped the Twins’ annual charity golf tournament on Thursday, but Saturday he was back in his element.
Bunting, baserunning and hitting tips from a seven-time batting champion are traditionally among the highlights of any spring training for Twins players, young and old, and Carew vowed not to curtail his workload much, if at all.
“We know how serious it is, what he’s going through,” Twins first baseman Joe Mauer said. “For him being here, just his presence makes a lot of us feel good. For him to want to come down here and to help us still with what he’s dealing with is pretty awesome.”
Tony Oliva, Carew’s roommate throughout the latter’s 12-year run with the Twins (1967-78), was overcome with emotion just seeing his friend in uniform again. Oliva, 77, spent a week in December visiting Carew as he convalesced on Coronado Island near San Diego.
It was at that time that Carew shared with his friend a goal that might have seemed overly ambitious: to attend spring training and resume his duties as a special instructor.
“I don’t have enough words to explain to you how I feel about this,” Oliva said. “I spent more time with Rod Carew than I spent with my own brothers. I’m feeling very, very happy to see him here today.”
Oliva shook his head as he considered how far Carew already had come since they were together two months ago.
“Carew believes in himself and he has faith in God,” Oliva said. “He’s got a good attitude and he’s working really hard. All of a sudden, you put it all together and he’s here.”
Carew, who received an ovation from the team after manager Paul Molitor welcomed him during a morning meeting, agreed with a suggestion that being back around the game would be good for his soul as much as his heart.
“That’s why I decided to make this one of my goals: to get back to come to spring training,” he said. “I knew this would be good for me: Hanging out with the guys and being in the cages and doing soft toss, whatever I can to help the guys out.”
Carew pulled up his “Heart of 29” shirt to show off the battery pack he keeps strapped to his right side. Could he demonstrate a drag bunt with that contraption?
“Well, let me see,” he said, pivoting to test it out. “Maybe. I don’t know about running down the line, but maybe.”
Barely five months removed from the so-called “widowmaker” heart attack suffered on a golf course near his home, Carew is back to walking six to seven miles a day under Rhonda’s close watch.
“I’m trying anyway,” he said. “She pushes me. She’s like my drill instructor.”
Carew recently called the widow of Tony Phillips, the former 18-year big leaguer (1982-99) who died at age 56 of a heart attack on Feb. 17.
“We just lost another friend of mine, Tony Phillips, about 10 days ago,” Carew said. “I talked to his wife, and she didn’t even know he’d had a heart attack.”
As he was last month at TwinsFest, when the year-long campaign to benefit the American Heart Association was announced, Carew remains resolute in his message: “I can only tell you guys: Go get your hearts checked. That’s what this is all about, to enlighten you guys and let you guys know: Don’t take your ticker for granted.”
As he continues to gain strength, Carew said his doctors have told him he could undergo a heart transplant in about four months.
“Until then,” Carew said, “I’m going to live the bionic life and enjoy it, I guess.”
In the meantime, buoyed by his friend’s amazing recovery, Oliva is hoping the two old friends can resume their golf rivalry before Carew returns to California next month.
“Any time he’s ready to go play,” Oliva said, eyes twinkling. “I brought my golf clubs because he told me he was bringing his. If he didn’t bring his, he can use mine. We’re both lefties.”