One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs by Rod Carew with Jaime Aron offers a rich and insightful look at the Hall of Famer’s career, family tragedy, philanthropy, and how he overcame adversity. The seven-time batting champion made baseball look “easy” as he was a consistent top-of-the-order hitter with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. Off the field, however, Carew dealt with his fair share of demons.
It would be an understatement to say that Carew experienced a rough childhood. Carew grew up in Panama and his alcoholic father constantly abused him and his mother. Even though she was physically attacked and tried her best to protect her son from being harmed, Carew’s mother Olga preached to him that God always has a plan and works in mysterious ways. Olga’s unrelenting faith and regular Sunday church outings with the young Rod Carew convinced him that there would be better days ahead.
Although his home life was a nightmare, Carew had a natural knack for baseball. Carew played above his age group and over time became one of the most highly touted players in Panama. Nevertheless, once Olga found a way to move to New York with her youngest son, his focus shifted to schoolwork and adjusting to life in a completely different world. Fortunately, Carew found his way back to baseball, excelled in adult amateur leagues, and was signed by the Twins after putting on a power display at Yankee Stadium.
One of the book’s biggest themes was how Carew’s family and friends inspired him throughout his life. Carew entered the Major Leagues as a star contact hitter but struggled with hardships along the way. Carew was bullied in Class A ball and was immensely worried during a short slump in his second season. At times, Carew did not encounter his problems head-on, as his struggles warranted a “flight” response most likely hailing from his horrible childhood. As a result, Carew left the team without notifying them, but Twins Owner Calvin Griffith and Twins Manager Billy Martin persuaded him to stay.
Besides those two executives, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew both took Carew under their wing. His two teammates became some of Carew’s first friends at the professional level. Carew spent so much time with them that he was finally able to open up about his childhood trauma to other people, thus signaling how much Carew’s life improved since leaving Panama. No longer was Carew a scared kid with little hope of escaping his father’s wrath. His success as a baseball player, and healthier relationships in his life, allowed him to cope with his time spent in his home country.
Carew continued to grow as an individual after his playing career too. Unfortunately, Carew’s daughter Michelle died at 18 from Leukemia, but his daughter wanted nothing more than to help the other patients. Therefore, in Michelle’s final days and after she died, Carew took initiative and began to raise awareness about the various transplants that helped his daughter. Carew was not very fond of the media and for the most part, was a reserved person. Nonetheless, Carew broke down the proverbial walls that he placed on the outside world, did everything from interviews to speaking with strangers to ask for donations, and provide funding. Indeed, many lives were saved because of Carew’s campaign to popularize bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants.
Sadly, Carew’s relationship with his first wife and children was strained by Michelle’s death. Even with his difficult family situation, Carew eventually met his second wife and her children became part of his family. Carew’s new family stayed by his side when he had a massive heart attack in 2015, which took years of recovery. After surviving the heart attack, Carew had to undergo intensive physical therapy, several transplants of his own, and a return of his “flight” response, yet Carew continued helping others. Carew partnered with the Twins, Angels, Major League Baseball, and the Hall of Fame to ask others to get screened before any heart problems occur.
Carew faced incredible hardships but went on to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a rarity among the best players enshrined in Cooperstown. His family life, both as a child and as an adult were challenging and traumatic for him. Yet, Carew continued to fight off life’s curveballs and did not let any of these adversities stop him from helping others, or using his platform to raise awareness. Furthermore, Carew’s autobiography has added to his legacy. Besides his philanthropic work and amazing performance on the diamond, Carew’s eloquently told story can inspire nearly anyone to overcome their own individual struggles.
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