By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
LOS ANGELES — Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew and his Heart of 29 campaign to boost awareness and prevention of heart disease expanded to a vast new audience Monday night through a series of events before and during a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Dodgers invited Carew and the American Heart Association to use the game as a platform to heighten awareness of the No. 1 killer of Americans. The messages indeed went out in a variety of ways, including distribution of baseball cards with an image of a young Carew on the front and Life’s Simple 7 on the back.
Before the game, Carew visited with legendary broadcaster Vin Scully and was interviewed on the Dodgers’ pregame television show. Folks inside the stadium were shown an AHA public-service announcement and clips of an MLB Network interview in which Carew detailed his Sept. 20 heart attack and cardiac arrest, and his ensuing operation to receive an LVAD, a machine that handles the pumping for his heart while he awaits a possible transplant. When that ended, Carew was interviewed live from the field for everyone in the stadium to see and hear.
“We’re trying to get people to take care of their hearts. It’s about eating right, and going to your doctors. I wish I had,” Carew told the crowd. “We need to draw attention to the fact that so many people die of heart disease every year.”
Next to be introduced were heart disease and stroke survivor Lidia Morales, sudden cardiac arrest survivor Jill Hisey and 1-year-old heart transplant recipient Dravyn Johnson. Then Carew went to the middle of the diamond to throw out the first pitch. He tossed a strike to Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen, who has atrial fibrillation.
During the game, Carew spent a full inning with the Dodgers radio crew, giving him an extended opportunity — more than 20 minutes — to tell his tale and explain how others can learn from it.
“I want dads to be around, moms to be around, to take care of their kids, to watch them grow up and live out their dreams,” Carew said. “That’s my hope for Heart of 29.”
For all these big moments, there were even more little ones.
It started with Carew entering the stadium and a fan recognized him. The man said, “When you played, it was like you were playing slow-pitch softball while everyone else was playing baseball. … I heard about your heart problem. I’m praying for you.”
On the way to see Scully, Carew saw Ken Landreaux, who in 1979 was among the players the Angels traded to the Minnesota Twins to acquire Carew. The two have long since been friends.
“Kenny, do me a favor,” Carew said with a hand on Landreaux’s shoulder. “Get your heart checked.”
Scully is 88 and in his 67th and final season in the booth, so Carew was eager to see him. Scully proved to be equally eager, offering a hearty hug and plenty of smiles. And, as he is best known for, Scully offered a fitting story.
When Carew mentioned that he hopes to get a transplant later this year, Scully recalled playing golf with Carroll Shelby, an entrepreneur best known for race cars and chili, who at the time of the golf outing was waiting for a heart transplant. Shelby showed Scully the device he carried that would alert him that an organ was found and he had 30 minutes to get to the hospital. While it didn’t go off that day, it eventually did, and Shelby lived 12 more years. Scully wished the same for Carew.
“You look good,” Scully told Carew. “It’s God’s will that you’re alive. That’s all there is to it.”
As Carew waited to go on the field, former big-league manager Kevin Kennedy and former Dodgers pitching star Orel Hershiser were among those to chat with Carew, asking all about his condition before bringing up baseball matters. Hershiser also was part of the TV crew that interviewed Carew for the pregame show. After covering the basics about heart disease, Carew cracked them up with a story he’d just told Hershiser about his battles with fellow Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
While Carew stood near the Dodgers dugout, he received a steady stream of visitors. There was his former neighbor and pupil, Trayce Thompson, now an outfielder for the Dodgers (he homered during the game, which the Angels won, 7-6); Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who went to school with one of Carew’s daughters and former Dodgers star Ron Cey. Carew also was greeted by Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, who’d never met Carew and said he’d always wanted to.
Lombard told Carew that he was worried about his dad, “who is never taking care of himself.” Carew urged Lombard to encourage his father to see a doctor in hopes of avoiding what he’s endured.
Leaving the field following the first pitch, Carew saw former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. Following a hug, Lasorda said, “I’ll say a prayer for you tonight.” Lasorda then introduced Carew to two nuns.
Carew joined Charley Steiner and Rick Monday on the radio broadcast during the middle of the fourth inning. When Carew said he was feeling good and happy to be alive, Steiner smiled, leaned back and said, “It’s not every day that somebody walks into the booth and says, `I’m feeling well. And I’m waiting for a new heart.’ That is a first!”
“Basically,” Monday said later in their chat, “the message is take care of your heart, listen to your heart.”
After several innings of watching the game, and after his stint in the radio booth, Carew was worn out and ready for the hour-plus drive back to his home in Orange County. On the way out, a fan stopped Carew and asked for an autograph. They began chatting, and the man shared his heart story. They wished each other good luck and goodbye, with the man asking for more information about how he can spread the word about preventing, beating and treating heart disease. One final connection on a night filled with them.