In recovery from a near-fatal heart attack in September, Hall of Famer Rod Carew opens up to host Bob Costas in an episode of MLB Network Presents, premiering tonight at 9 ET.
"Rod Carew: The Fight of His Life" was filmed from Carew's home in Southern California and Minnesota's Target Field. Carew has been heartened by the level of support he has been given from the public and those inside the game. Among his most famous fans is Don Mattingly, the former Dodgers manager now handling the Marlins' reins.
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"Rod Carew was the player I wanted to be like," said Mattingly, who grew up in Evansville, Ind., and drove himself to greatness with the Yankees after being taken in the 19th round, No. 493 overall, in the 1979 Draft.
"I was always trying to hit like him when I was a kid," Mattingly said. "I'd try his stance, his swing, his mannerisms. I hit the ball all over the field then, like Rod. Of course, I couldn't bunt and run like him."
Carew, who won seven American League batting titles en route to his first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 1991, began his career with the Twins in 1967 as a second baseman and slid over to first base nine years later. There, holding runners, he became acquainted with the young, rising star of the Yankees.
"Rod was my guy, and he knew it," Mattingly said. "When I got to New York [as a rookie in 1983], I'd get to first base after a base hit and he'd ask me why I was doing something. He always took an interest in me; that meant a lot to me."
Making his first All-Star Game appearance in 1984, Mattingly won the American League batting crown with a .343 average and claimed his first of nine Gold Gloves. Carew, having moved from the Twins to the California Angels, was an All-Star for the 18th and final time that season.
"Rod came over [in the clubhouse] when I got to that All-Star Game [in San Francisco's Candlestick Park] and gave me a bat," Mattingly said. "He wrote, `Don -- continued success. Rod Carew.' That was a real thrill for me."
The stars and leaders of the game were impressionable kids at one time. Those who remember and value the impact their favorites had on them have grown to understand their responsibilities as role models
"That is so true," said Bruce Bochy, manager of three World Series championship teams with the Giants. "Sometimes I don't think they realize how much influence they have on young people. There are kids out there watching everything they do. That's why it's important to run hard down the line every time, to play the game the right way and treat people the right way.
"It's like that classic Joe DiMaggio story, about how he played the way he did because he said there might be a kid there who had never seen him play before."
The son of a U.S. Army officer, Bochy was born in France and moved around in his youth. Living near Washington, D.C., he developed an attraction to mammoth Senators slugger Frank Howard, who twice led the AL in home runs with 44 and in RBIs with 126 in 1970.
"You'd be out in the backyard playing Wiffle ball, trying to emulate your favorite player," Bochy recalled. "Naturally, I'd try to hit just like Frank Howard. I had the chance to watch Mickey Mantle, and he was tremendous, of course. But big Frank was my favorite. I loved watching him play and hit.
"As it turned out, Frank was my coach when I was playing in New York [in 1982, with the Mets]. He was the hardest-working coach I've ever seen -- and the most polite guy you'd ever met.
"I went out to shag [fly balls] in the outfield one day, and Frank called me in and told me to go to second base and take some ground balls. I'd just gotten there and maybe he didn't know I was a catcher -- and I was catching that day.
"So, he keeps hitting me grounders, back and forth, really working me. I think he just wanted somebody to hit to, and I didn't want to tell him I was a catcher. Just being around the guy I grew up admiring was a thrill."
Growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark., Torii Hunter was a football player first. He was drawn to baseball by Andre Dawson, then the star of the Chicago Cubs and visible on WGN-TV.
"I copied everything Andre Dawson did: his stance, the way he ran and threw, everything," Hunter said. "He was my man. When I finally met him, he was everything I imagined him to be. That's kind of how you want to be like when kids meet you."
Hunter, who graced the Twins and Angels and moved into retirement this winter after 19 memorable seasons, has been a roaring success as a role model.
His enduring impact on a young Angels teammate named Mike Trout and so many other players is as much a part of his legacy as his nine Gold Gloves, 353 home runs, 1,391 RBIs and 195 stolen bases.
Like the great Carew, Hunter found homes, fulfillment and devoted followings in Minnesota and Southern California.