COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When Rod Carew had a heart attack this past September near his home in Southern California, the first goals in his recovery was to make it to Spring Training and the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this year.He can now check off both boxes. Mike
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When Rod Carew had a heart attack this past September near his home in Southern California, the first goals in his recovery was to make it to Spring Training and the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this year.
He can now check off both boxes. Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. will be handed their plaques on Sunday behind the newly reconstructed Clark Sports Center.
Induction coverage starts on MLB Network and MLB.com at 11 a.m. ET, with the ceremonies beginning live at 1:30 p.m. And Carew will be among the 48 Hall of Famers on the tented stage behind the newest inductees.
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It's a triumph of courage and fortitude.
Wearing a white vest attached to a device that helps the heart pump and his ability to breath, Carew is on tour now talking about his condition and taking preventive measures to prevent heart disease.
He knows he's lucky to be alive.
"I learned that it doesn't matter how big you are," the Hall of Famer, who batted .328 and won seven American League batting titles in 19 seasons with the Angels and the Twins, told MLB.com after a media conference. "This is the great equalizer."
Carew, 70 now, said he felt fine and healthy before the attack nearly blew him away on Sept. 20. He had a left ventricular assist device implanted to help the beating of his heart, and he is currently seeking to put his name on a transplant list.
Carew said that aside from normal physicals conducted by his doctors, he never paid too much attention to cardiovascular care. Now he knows better. The diagnostic tests available can tell anyone how much deadly plaque exists in blood vessels and detect any weaknesses within the heart chamber.
Available medicines can keep people ahead of the curve before disaster occurs.
"I know that now," Carew said. "I'm on top of it now. I take my medicines. My wife makes sure that I do that."
Carew took his Heart of 29 campaign to Boston's Fenway Park earlier this week, the fourth Major League city in which he's delivered his message, including the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard just a few weeks ago in San Diego.
Twenty-nine, of course, was his famous number. And just prior to the All-Star Game, baseball announced that the AL batting title heretofore would be named after him. At the same time, that honor in the National League was bestowed upon Tony Gwynn, who passed away a little more than two years ago because of recurring cancer in his salivary gland.
Mr. Padre passed at age 54, and his eight batting titles tied an NL record shared by Honus Wagner, who accumulated them from 1900-11. Gwynn won his titles from 1984-97.
The honor for the two men was more than apropos. Carew was a mentor to Gwynn, who was drafted by the Padres in 1981 and met Carew attending his first Spring Training camp before the 1982 season. At that point, Carew, at 36, was with the Angels and embarking on his 16th season.
The two became dear friends, sharing batting tips and stories about their disparate lives. Carew was born and raised in Panama, while Gwynn hailed from Los Angeles but grew up in nearby Long Beach.
"I was really excited about the announcement," Carew said. "I couldn't tell anybody about it even though I knew about it for a few days. And then for it to happen in conjunction with Tony Gwynn, that was even more special. Tony Gwynn and I were really good friends. Who in the NL was a better hitter than Tony Gwynn?"
Carew won his batting titles from 1969-78 and they were all with the Twins. His career ended in 1985, just about the time Gwynn was beginning a 20-year tenure with the Padres.
But Carew spent a decade as a hitting coach with the Angels and Brewers and continued to talk to Gwynn about hitting. Both were left-handed hitters, as Gwynn finished with 3,141 hits and Carew with 3,053. Carew was inducted in the Hall in 1991, Gwynn in 2007.
"We exchanged ideas," Carew said. "We talked about the different pitchers and how we would face them. Yeah, we were kind of out there as far as hitting philosophy goes."
Carew was one of a number of Major Leaguers who attended Gwynn's funeral service in the student union at San Diego State. Two years later, Gywnn's death affects him still.
"Tony was a great man, a huge, huge loss," Carew said.
Now Carew is staring right in the face of his own mortality. His coping mechanism is to keep moving, keep teaching.
"I went to Minneapolis, Boston and then I came here," Carew said. "This was one of my goals. My first goal was Spring Training. My next goal was to get to Minneapolis and TwinsFest. I've accomplished these things. I've done these things. I think it makes me feel better to be around the guys. It's a big boost for me."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.