Rod Carew

Rod CarewHall Of Famer Rod Carew Talks Faith, COVID-19 and, Yes, Baseball

FIGHTING OFF LIFE’S CURVEBALLS

   Rod in 19 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, Rod Carew racked up numbers that made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

   From 1967 to 1985, Carew collected 3,053 hits, won seven American League batting titles and made 18 straight All-Star appearances.

   But his new memoir, “One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs,” ventures beyond the baseball diamond.

   Co-written with Jaime Aron, the 324-page narrative uncovers Carew’s often-difficult, emotional personal journey — from growing up with an abusive father in Panama to losing a daughter to leukemia to undergoing his own life-saving heart and kidney transplant.

LISTEN: Religion Unplugged podcast interview with Rod Carew

   This stat is impossible to miss in Carew’s book: its 67 mentions of God.

   “Rod's faith is one of the threads that bind his whole, amazing life story,” said Aron, a senior writer for the American Heart Association and former Texas sports editor for The Associated Press.

   In an interview with Religion Unplugged, Carew, 74, talked about his complicated faith, his effort to avoid COVID-19 and why he’s not a fan of baseball returning before there’s a corona virus vaccine. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Religion Unplugged: What inspired you to write a memoir after all these years?

Rod Carew: I got involved with the American Heart Association, and I thought it was a great idea to do it because I went through heart problems and a heart transplant and a kidney transplant.

   And so, if we could get to people and let them know how important it is to take care of their hearts and things like that, we hope we can do some good. Because heart disease is the No. 1 killer in this country. So we are trying to help people take better care of themselves.

RUP: You mention God 67 times in your book, and you talk about your mother’s influence with your faith from an early age. What’s your earliest memory of faith or going to church with her?

Carew: I think I was about 7 years old. Instead of playing baseball on Sundays, I had to go to church. And the thing she always told me is, “God is going to be with you. He’s going to take care of you.” … And I believed her. She was a big influence in my life as far as that goes.

READ: Clemente Lisi’s Religion Unplugged review of “One Tough Out”

RUP: Did your family have a specific denominational affiliation when you were a child?

Carew: Yeah, we were Episcopalians. So that was very important to me because she made me go to church on Sundays. So while the other kids were out playing, I was in church talking to my friend upstairs.

RUP: Obviously, that made a big impact on your life. Your book talks about the trauma you experienced with an abusive father and all that you went through there. What role do you think faith and God played in your ability to survive all that?

Carew: I think it was a very important part. My father came home drunk one time, and he passed out in the bed. I think I was maybe about 11 years old. And I felt like I had the opportunity to get back at him, so I went out and got my machete, and I was going to chop him up.

   Then my mom came in just at the right time, and she said, “Baseball and God.” So I dropped the machete and ran out of the room. I could’ve been in a lot of trouble during that experience. But my mom once again saved me.

   Rod Carew’s new memoir goes beyond baseball to tell the Hall of Famer’s life story.

RUP: Wow. That’s crazy to think that a child would have to go through something like that.

Carew: It was bad. It was really bad. And she took a beating for me because she tried to protect me, but it took it out of her also.

RUP: You mention in the book that she wouldn’t even let him get the satisfaction of him beating her. And there were a couple of spiritual songs that she would sing in those cases.

Carew: “Amazing Grace” and “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” She sang those songs as he’s beating her and beating me, as she’s trying to hold onto me. So my mother was a lady of faith. She believed so much that God was going to take care of me always, that he’s always there for me if I ever need him.

RUP: Even today, if you happen to be in church when those songs are sung, I imagine that it’s difficult not to think about your late mother.

Carew: Oh, definitely. I do all the time.

RUP: In your book, you talk about your one-on-one time with God. You mention that you weren’t someone who was tied to a set of rules or memorizing Scripture. It was more about you and God. Why do you think you approached your faith that way?

Carew: I was so comfortable with him — talking to him and expressing the things I was going through as a kid. I would ask him questions — like, “What’s in my future?” — And just little things like that that a growing little boy wants to know.

And I knew that when he created me that he already had my life planned out. And so, when I had doubts about anything, I always would say, “Father, please just be there for me.” And it seems like he answered all my prayers.

RUP: Throughout your career and even until now, a lot of people thought that you were Jewish, including Adam Sandler. (In 1994, Sandler included Carew in “The Hanukkah Song” that the comedian sang on an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”)

Carew: Well, I was married to a Jewish girl for about 30 years. And at one time I was going to convert. And I kept putting it off and putting it off because my daughters were raised in a Jewish faith. So I kept putting it off. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it or not. Eventually, I decided not to. I didn’t want to feel like I was giving up something by changing my religion.

RUP: You mention that you believe God gave you the ability to hit a baseball but not necessarily that he determined if you got a hit on any given at-bat.

Carew: I knew that he gave me an ability to do something that a lot of people couldn’t do or can’t do. And with that ability, he wanted me to work at it. Just don’t take it and do nothing with it.

   So, when guys are saying that they are going to do this this year or next year, you know I was the opposite. If my Father gives me good health, I’m going to play and play hard for him. I never set goals during my career, but it was all up to him and him giving me great health. And I was lucky because I wasn’t hurt too much during the 19 years that I played.

RUP: If we can talk about baseball a little bit, you cite June 26, 1977, as your favorite or most memorable day in baseball. (That Sunday afternoon, 46,643 fans showed up for “Rod Carew Jersey Day.” It turned out to be his best game in a season in which the 31-year-old Carew hit a career-high .388.)

Carew: Well, I went into the Twin Cities as a 20-year-old kid, and because of my abuse from my dad; I was really hard to get along with. I would fight people or even my teammates. If they said something wrong that I didn’t like, we went to the closet or went into a room and just went at it.

   And then I started understanding when (Twins manager) Billy Martin took me aside one day, and he said to me, “You’ve got a great talent, and you’re going to go a lot of places, but you have to control this temper.” And then I really started understanding what the Lord had given me. He had given me something great. I could go out there and make people happy and put a smile on their faces. And so I started to grow as a person.

   I remember that on that day, I think I went 4-for-6 and received six or seven standing ovations during the game. And so it made me feel like I had made the turn, you know? That I came in here as a kid, and now these people have grown so accustomed to me … and appreciated the work that I had done.

   I would sit and talk to the Lord about it and ask him to forgive me for all the sins that I’d committed. I was going to try and follow him in my best way.

RUP: So that day you felt like you belonged, and everything kind of came together?

Carew: Yes, definitely. It was a big day, and I appreciated the people of Minnesota for turning out for that ballgame and making sure that I would never forget that day.

   Rod Carew with his wife, Rhonda, friend and former teammate Tony Oliva and his wife, and Carew’s adopted children.

RUP: You lost your daughter Michelle to leukemia in 1996. She was 18 years old. Could you talk a little bit about her?

Carew: Yeah, she was a big influence on me. She knew that I wasn’t the kind of person that enjoyed talking to the press — the printed press. I would talk to the TV or radio guys but not the (newspaper) guys that followed the team. Because every time I would do an interview, they would take it and write what they wanted with it, so I started being gun-shy. And she knew this.

   And so when we were checking into the hospital with her, there were so many kids running around the hallways with their (IV) poles. They had their hockey sticks and their balls, and they were throwing them around. And their soccer balls — they were kicking them all over the place.

   Standing there at check-in, Michelle looked at me, and she said, “Dad, you see all these kids?” She said, “No matter what happens to me, I want you to help these other kids.” And she said, “I know that you don’t talk to the press, but I’d like you to promise me that you will because it’s important to all these kids also.” And so I opened up myself and became more accessible to the press and talking to them.

RUP: You went through that experience with her, and then you had your own experience with the heart and kidney transplant. You mention that in those circumstances that you never blamed God.

Carew: No, never did.

RUP: How do you not blame God in those situations?

Carew: Because I know that, with my daughter, she’s going to a better place. She’s going to be another rose in this garden.

   Like, a lot of people say, “Well, where’s God? Why is he doing this?” I never even tried to answer that question because I had faith in him. I knew that he was going to take care of her. Just like he was taking care of me when I went through my problems with my heart transplant and my kidney transplant.

   I used to scream in the mornings or before I went to bed at night. And the nurses thought I was going crazy because I would always yell out, “Father, I’m OK! I’m not afraid to die! You are with me right here!”... And boy, they used to think I was going crazy. But those were my conversations with him.

RUP: Once you and Rhonda married, you ended up at Saddleback Community Church, where Rick Warren is the pastor. (Carew was married to Marilynn Levy from 1970 to 2000. He and Rhonda Carew have been married since 2001.)

Carew: Yes, we did. We got re-baptized there. And we would go to either the Saturday services or Sunday services. And sometimes when we were away, we would pick up the services on the internet. It’s a very great church. The pastors are great.

   I remember Rick Warren doing our baseball chapel (for the Angels) on Sundays when he first started out.

RUP: And he baptized you close to Easter in 2010? (Carew previously had been baptized as an infant in the Episcopal Church.)

Carew: Yeah, my wife and I said, “We’re going to get re-baptized and turn our lives over to God.” So that’s what we did.

RUP: What inspired you to do that at that time, and what do you remember about what you were feeling at the baptism?

Carew: I was feeling good about myself and good about my marriage and the kids. And I was thinking to myself, “I hope Pastor Rick doesn’t hold me under the water too long.”

RUP: Unrelated to faith, let’s talk about Minneapolis and all that’s been going on with George Floyd’s death. What has been going through your mind as you’ve been reading and hearing about all that?

Carew: Well, you know I spent 12 years; I lived there during my playing career. And it was the greatest place to be, and it’s a great place to raise kids. So I was really surprised when all this rioting and protesting was a big part of Minneapolis.

   My good friend Tony Oliva still lives there, so I made sure I checked on him to see that he was not too close to what was happening. But it seems like it’s a part of life nowadays that kids — they’re out there, out in the streets, instead of trying to do something better to help the communities. They’re burning places down, and then they have to go through rebuilding.

   And it’s such a hurtful time for all of us — Black, white, Asians, Pacific Islanders. Doesn’t matter who you are. It’s a tough time for all of us.

RUP: How are you doing health wise and handling social distancing and all that we’re facing with the corona- virus pandemic?

Carew: I’m doing good because I had a self-imposed quarantine. … I make sure that I stay away from people. I always wear a mask.

   I go out for a drive every now and then, but I do it at night where I can just drive around and talk to Michelle and see how she’s doing.

RUP: Are we going to get baseball back this season?

Carew: They’re saying that we are. But to me, it’s dangerous because you’re dealing with the lives of a lot of guys. If this thing is not cured, you never know who’s going to get sick and who’s going to survive it. And I have learned to stay away from people because of my immune system. I cannot be around people, and I wear a mask even when I’m driving around in my car.

RUP: So you feel like baseball should be a little more cautious and maybe not go back this year?

Carew: I think all sports should be. Because these guys are together as a team, and they’re just close. You just don’t know when this thing is going to be over with. So to me, until they find a cure, we’re just putting a lot of people in danger by trying to get sports going. And playing the game without fans in the stands is not as good as it would be if people were out there cheering for the players.

   Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle. A former religion writer for The Associated Press and The Oklahoman, Ross has reported from all 50 states and 15 nations. He has covered religion since 1999.

Bobby Ross Jr.

July 6, 2020

Rod's Hearing His Voice Testimony

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