ANAHEIM, CALIF. – There’s a set of three lockers near the door to the dugout tunnel in the visitors’ clubhouse at Angel Stadium. As Twins assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner walked toward the door Monday, he pointed at his locker among the three and said: “Notice? Three Hall of Famers over there.”
Not a bad line, considering the nameplates over the lockers next to Hefner’s read “Oliva” and Carew.”
Actually, Rod Carew is the only one of the three enshrined in Cooperstown, but that’s quibbling. For the Twins, adding the franchise’s all-time leading hitter — Carew batted .334 over a dozen seasons from 1967 to ’78 — to a clubhouse that has included Tony Oliva on this seven-game West Coast road trip is a Hall of Fame experience.
“It’s terrific having him here. He was a big help to me in spring training,” Twins second baseman Jonathan Schoop said of Carew, who played the final seven years of his 19-year major league career with the Angels. “He took me to the batting cage with him in [Fort Myers], and he showed me what could make me better, had some good advice. How to use my hands better, how to keep my weight back. If you use the hands well, you’re going to put the ball on the barrel.”
Carew, who lives near Anaheim, was invited, like Oliva, to rejoin the team for their trip here by manager Rocco Baldelli.
“Everyone who gets a chance to spend time with Rod realizes he has some very helpful and really interesting thoughts on hitting. He’s pretty much the best there ever was,” Baldelli said. “He had a very unique set of abilities, and he talks a lot about bunting and using the whole field and some of his mind-set when he was in the box himself. He’s got some good humor to go along with all of it, too, so on top of all the really interesting baseball discussions, he’s also someone who really enhances the feeling in the clubhouse.”
Carew said he developed a lot of optimism about this Twins team during spring training, so he is not surprised to find them in first place. Has he been following the team?
“I don’t miss a game that they play,” he said. “I watch them and I’m reminded of what we worked on in spring training. I’m checking to make sure they’re doing things well.”
So far, so good.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Carew said. “I don’t see much that needs correcting.”
A seven-time AL batting champion, Carew was an 18-time All-Star and the AL MVP in 1977. He finished with 3,053 career hits and had his No. 29 retired by the Twins in 1987.
He and Oliva were teammates and road roommates for nearly a decade with the Twins. Carew and Oliva stood behind the cage during batting practice Monday, and Carew called assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez over for a chat.
“You can learn a lot from a hitter like that,” Hernandez said.
Baldelli said he has invited Carew to Target Field later this summer, too, and hopes the 73-year-old Panamanian can accept.
“He’s one of a kind,” Baldelli said.