Reticent no longer, Carew tells his life story

May 14th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- These days, when needs some time to himself, he'll usually wait until around 11 p.m. or so before he slips into his car, puts the top down and drives the roads of Southern California. As the warm nighttime air swirls around him, Carew welcomes the open expanse of the sky, nothing separating him from his daughter, Michelle, somewhere in that sea of stars in the heavens far above his head.

Carew used to do these drives back in 1996, too, as Michelle struggled in her battle with leukemia in room 306 of Children's Hospital of Orange County. Those days, he would drive through the night, sometimes as far as Nevada or Utah. He thought of it as his private time with God. Today, these drives are his private time with Michelle.

"We have a conversation. I talk to her," Carew said on the phone on Wednesday. "Still, today, I do that because it eases my mind and it allows me to sink into the whole of trying to do good for people and not to be selfish anymore."

Before Michelle lost her very public battle with leukemia 24 years ago, she asked her father to use his platform to raise awareness for the greater need in the bone marrow donor bank around the country. That was a tough ask for Carew, who had been notoriously distant with the media and reticent to express himself in the public eye during his Hall of Fame playing career in Minnesota and Anaheim.

That turned Carew's life around. He found his purpose, he said, in using his baseball stature to bring attention to the important issues in public health that have profoundly changed his life through Michelle's battle and his own recent fight with heart failure. That's why he worked with writer Jaime Aron and Triumph Books on his new autobiography, "One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life's Curveballs," which was released on Tuesday.

"[People] need to take a look at themselves and get checked," Carew said. "What you see on the outside is not what's going on on the inside. I just wanted it to be an eye-opener for people, giving them a little bit of advice and allowing them to see that it can happen to any one of us. And they've got to have faith. They've got to have faith. Because it plays such a big role in what I've gone through over the years."

This isn't the first time Carew has released an autobiography. The first, titled "Carew," was published in 1979. That's when Carew was traded from the Twins to the Angels, and he worked on that memoir at the urging of his agent, who wanted fans in Southern California to get to know the star infielder who would go on to finish out his 19-year career in Orange County.

That one revolved around Rod Carew, the baseball player. "One Tough Out" is more personal, with the stories of 3,053 hits and seven batting titles crammed into one of the three parts of the book, which is tied together by a focus on Carew's drive to help the community and his unwavering faith amid a host of personal and health-related struggles that strongly impacted every facet of his life before and after the baseball.

"I had to grow up," Carew said. "And I did some real fast growing up, especially after I lost my first child. It was the most hurtful thing that a parent could go through. After that, she helped me in such a way to reach out to people, because she knew I wasn't very good with the press, and she said, 'Daddy, you've got to. If anything, I want you to, because it's important. There's so many kids that you can be a voice for.'

"If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have opened up the way I have over the last however many years."

As Carew details, he had a lot of growing up to do because of his upbringing in a household with a physically and emotionally abusive father in Panama, and he opens up about how those experiences caused him to build up his emotional defenses and naturally lack trust in those around him.

Carew now isn't afraid to express a wide range of emotions in the book. Contempt toward his father mixes with his pride for his on-field accomplishments, which turns to grief for the loss of Michelle and the gratitude he has toward his wife, Rhonda, for being at his side through all the highs and lows of his later life. He's also open about some the frustration he feels regarding the direction of modern baseball and the gratitude and love he feels towards the entire family of former Stanford and NFL tight end Konrad Reuland, the heart and kidney donor who saved Carew's life.

It's a behind-the-scenes look for baseball fans at not only the Hall of Fame career, but what Carew hopes is a similarly decorated life that followed once the loss of Michelle forever changed the course of his life and worldview. It details his work with Be The Match, a marrow registry, and the American Heart Association and his efforts with the Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball in the "Heart of 29" campaign, which remains an important part of the club's charitable efforts in the Upper Midwest.

"I want [readers] to understand that I am a good person and that I am a person of God," Carew said. "I trust in Him and I believe in Him. Maybe, somewhere along the line, people that are struggling with their beliefs and with their thoughts, maybe this might give them that open door to step into it and say, 'Father, here I am. Take care of me. I want to be a big part of your life, also.' Some people might say, 'Well, that's all corny,' but that's the truth. That's what I believe."

Carew now hopes that baseball fans will take that personal journey of discovery and growth with him -- while, he hopes, learning more about the medical and charitable organizations that are now dear to his heart.

"I never expected that any of this would happen to me, but I'm glad that I am in this position, that I can help others," Carew said. "It's important to me, too. It's important for me because of so much that I went through as a kid. I survived it all. Here I am, on the other side, trying to do good things and help people."