MANAGUA – Hall of Fame baseball legend Rod Carew, one of the greatest hitters to ever step into the batter’s box, came to Nicaragua last week to conduct a three-day baseball clinic and teach the fundamentals of the game he graced for 19 seasons for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.
Carew, whose baseball honors include the 1967 Rookie of the Year, the 1977 MVP award, seven batting titles and 18 All-Star Game appearances, hit .300 or better for a remarkable 15 consecutive seasons. With a lifetime average of .328, Carew joined the elite 3,000 hit club in 1985.
Now at age 62, Carew, a native of Panama and easily the best all-around player to ever come out of the region, seemed genuinely enthusiastic to pass on some of his incomparable baseball knowledge to other Central American youth during last week’s clinic at the AmericanCollege in Managua.
Under the blazing midday sun, Carew, dressed in his Twins uniform and looking in better shape than some current-day ball players, patrolled tirelessly around the infield, helping kids with their swings, adjusting grips and showing the fundamentals of his sweet inside-out swing that made him a household name (in baseball households, that is).
Carew says his name and reputation, which has been elevated to idol status in his native Panama, where the national baseball stadium carries his name, are something that he takes very seriously. He says he wants his life – one of hard work and consistency that took him from an impoverished neighborhood in Panama to baseball superstardom – to serve as an example to other Latino youth in the region.
Off the field, Carew spoke wistfully of a past era when performance-enhancing drugs were not a part of the game. Steroids in baseball, he says, is bad for the image and spirit of the game, as well as the historical memory of baseball and the greats of the past.
“Baseball was changing; they were breaking the records of the superstars,” Carew says, eluding to the homerun frenzy in recent years that have distorted the records set by the legendary sluggers of baseball lore. “Now baseball will return to what it was before,” he says hopefully.
Along those lines, Carew says he tells younger players now to focus on being consistent hitters, rather than power hitters.
Everyone wants to hit homeruns and sign the big contract, he says, but the great players are the ones who are consistent day in and out.
Carew sticks with that theory when asked to name the best hitter in baseball today.
“Ichiro from Seattle,” Carew says, referring to the Mariners batting star Ichiro Suzuki, of Japan. “He knows how to use the whole field to bat, he has patience and he gets 220-230 hits a year. He is very reliable.
We are the same kind of batters.” But when it comes to his all-time favorite player, Carew returns to his Latin roots in naming the immortal Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane accident while trying to bring earthquake relief aid to Nicaragua in 1972.
Carew also gives high marks to Nicaragua’s native son, Denis Martínez, the winningest Latino pitcher in baseball history. Carew says he remembers Martínez as a “tremendous pitcher,” who he thinks will someday be voted into Cooperstown with the rest of the Hall of Fame greats.
Carew exhibits a rare laugh when asked why he turned down an opportunity to play for the New York Yankees in 1979, and opted instead to sign with the California Angels.
“It had something to do with the way the owner talked,” Carew says, referring to the Yankees infamous front office boss, George Steinbrenner.
Apparently, some things in baseball never change.