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Rod Carew Concentrates on the Future : Former Angel All-Star Stays Close to Game, but Not Too Close

ORANGE COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: First in a four-part series on athletes who will be inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame on Monday.

February 11, 1988|ANN KILLION | Times Staff Writer

On the ground is the soft, reddish dirt of an infield. And long, green strips of artificial turf. And all around, there are baseballs and bats and faces of famous ballplayers.

But there is no sunshine or blue sky. No clicking cameras or reporters or crowds or applause. The only sound is the low, patient voice of a man in red sweats talking to a 12-year-old boy.

"You have to concentrate," the man says. "Look at your pivot foot."

This is not a ballpark. It is the cool, quiet re-creation of one, inside a high-ceilinged warehouse. And, except for the man in red sweats, the famous ballplayers are just autographed photos on the wall.

The man is Rod Carew, former baseball star for the Angels and Minnesota Twins, seven-time American League batting champion, 18-time American League all-star, giving a one-on-one hitting lesson to a young student at Rod Carew's Baseball School.

And this, his school housed in a warehouse in Placentia, is the closest that Carew has come to a ballpark in a long time.

Life has been quiet for Carew in the two years since his final season with the Angels. And that is just the way he likes it.

"I don't miss baseball at all," he said. "I don't miss anything about it."

After spending 19 years in the major leagues, in a career that started in 1967 when he was named rookie of the year and ended in 1985 with his only sub-.300 season (.285), Carew has disassociated himself with professional ball.

Instead, he is concentrating his attention on the school he opened in March, 1987, which is now booked months in advance. Carew, who wrote a book called "The Art and Science of Hitting" in 1986, gives lessons to boys and girls, young and old, from all around California and the country.

He charges $40 for a semi-private half-hour lesson (two students at once) and $80 for a private lesson, averaging 24 lessons a day. He feels he is providing a level of instruction that isn't available in most coaching environments.

"I don't claim to be the greatest instructor," Carew said. "But I don't like a lot of what I see in coaching."

Carew has turned down offers to return to the major leagues, both as a player and a coach. Always afraid of flying, he is enjoying staying at home in Anaheim, spending time with his three daughters--Charryse, 14; Stephanie, 12, and Michelle, 10--and Marilynn, his wife of 18 years.

"I just don't want to be involved in professional baseball," Carew said. "I feel like I would waste my time. I think my time is more valuable working with the kids. Major league players, they get there and they stop working. They don't look over their shoulder."

Carew prided himself on working hard even when he was at the top of his game, taking extra batting practice even when he was hitting .325, trying different things, changing his stroke, and never falling into a serious slump.

His hard work paid off. Carew was named the American League's most valuable player in 1977, received more all-star votes than any other player in history (more than 33,000,000), and--on Aug. 4, 1985--became only the 16th player in history to get 3,000 hits.

Despite these accomplishments, Carew's departure from baseball was rather unceremonious. After the 1985 season, at the end of a two-year contract and after seven years with the Angels, Rod Carew's baseball career was, to his surprise, over.

"I wasn't ready to go," he said. "I could have played. I know I could have helped someone out. I could go in there in a rocking chair and hit better than some of those guys I saw."

But the Angels did not express any interest in resigning him, and fall faded into winter, winter faded into the spring of 1986 and suddenly, for the first time in two decades, there was a new baseball season and no Rod Carew.

"I missed it during spring training," he said. "But that was all."

It was during the spring, while he was waiting, that Carew started coaching his daughter's Bobbi Sox softball team, the start of his interest in girls' softball, which continues today. (He is currently working with the Canyon High School softball team.)

In June 1986, the San Francisco Giants contacted Carew and expressed interest in signing him, but, by then, Carew had lost interest in playing a final season.

"I was still in shape," he said. "But I had already reached the point of no returning."

So that was the end. Since that time there has been a ceremony retiring his jersey (No. 29) at Anaheim Stadium in 1986 and a similar ceremony last season in Minnesota, where Carew played for 12 years.

He stays in touch with a few players--Doug DeCinces, Bob Boone, Tony Oliva from Minnesota. But he says he doesn't feel nostalgic, that he didn't feel emotional when the Angels were in the 1986 league championship series, that he doesn't regret leaving the game.

"When I read the paper about Wally Joyner (and his contract dispute), I shake my head," he said. "I'm glad I got away from all that. I have no one to answer to but myself."

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