There was a minimum of excitement over the Minnesota Twins in the 1970s. Rod Carew made attending games at Met Stadium more tolerable for the stragglers that decided to do so.
This mattered not to me. I was a beat reporter covering the Twins from 1974 through 1978 and enjoyed it more than any newspaper task before or since.
Carew was a big reason — not only his excellence as a hitter, but his quirks that you learned by talking almost daily to Carew or to his teammates.
I wanted to do a large article on Carew for the St. Paul Pioneer Press during an offseason and convinced him to meet for a late breakfast at the old Lincoln Del on Minnetonka Boulevard.
Rodney ordered an omelette. It arrived fluffed. Rodney wanted the eggs flipped, not fluffed. The omelette was returned still with a degree of fluff. Back it went. The third time the omelette almost passed muster, but not quite to the specifications that Rodney had outlined to the wait person.
“Maybe you ought to order a hamburger,” I finally said.
Carew flashed his world-class smile.
He hadn’t been sending back the omelette to be contrary. He was doing so because he was fastidious in all things — whether inventing a stance for a specific pitcher, or with his wardrobe, or with what he intended to eat.
Rod Carew was so meticulous about matters big and small that he was the last man I would have expected to have a heart attack sneak up on him.
That’s what happened on Sept. 20 when Carew decided to spend a Sunday morning playing a few holes of solo golf at Cresta Verde Golf Course in Corona, Calif.
Carew hit a tee shot on No. 1, suddenly felt a burning in his chest and a cold, wet feeling in his hands. He went to the clubhouse, laid on the floor and asked a woman to call paramedics.
He was in the midst of a massive heart attack, what Carew says his doctors later described as a “widowmaker.”
The paramedics showed up and jolted his chest with the paddles. “I was dead, and they brought me back to life,” Carew told Steve Rushin, who broke the story of Carew’s heart attack for Sports Illustrated on Monday.
Later Monday, Carew answered questions for six sportswriters — three from Minnesota, three from southern California — on a conference call.
Carew heard the paramedics saying “We’re losing him,” while on the floor in the clubhouse, and again from the staff in the emergency room at Riverside Community Hospital.
They didn’t lose Rodney, and he wound up at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, undergoing a six-hour open-heart procedure to install a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). It’s a mechanical pump that does the work that Carew’s actual heart cannot.
He’s on a donor list for a heart transplant. He turned 70 on Oct. 1, considered on the outside of age for a transplant. What makes him a candidate is that he has always been physically fit and there are no other apparent health problems.
“I’m on the list, and I’ll be battery-powered for as long as I can go,” Carew said.
Frank Pace, Carew’s longtime friend and business adviser, and two people from the American Heart Association were also on the conference call and offered information on the LVAD.
It has been in use for a decade. Originally, it was referred to as a “bridge to transplant,” but there are now patients who have lived seven years with the device.
Carew, his wife, Rhonda, and son Devon, 26, are staying at a private home in the San Diego area. The doctors want him there so he can be seen at the hospital two or three times a week.
Carew and his family kept the news of his severe heart attack to a select few. “We wanted to make sure he was on his way back to health,” Pace said.
There have been a few visitors — a couple of former teammates, as well as Dave St. Peter, the president of the Twins, and John Carpino, the president of the Angels. Rodney had his No. 29 retired by both teams, although it was with the Twins where he played 12 of his 19 seasons, won his seven batting titles and found the cap to put on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Carew has been spending time annually in Twins spring training as an instructor. He hopes to be in Fort Myers, Fla., again on March 1.
Carew said his main reason for going public with the Rushin interview and then the conference call was to get this simple message out for the American Heart Association:
“Get your heart checked. I’ve always looked at myself as healthy, but I wasn’t.”
In the immediate future, Carew said he should be OK, “As long as I remember to take fresh batteries when I go someplace.”
Don’t worry about that, Rod Carew fans.
I’ve seen Rodney order an omelette. He’s not the type to forget batteries for the power source of his lifesaving mechanical heart.