About her only request has been that her father, something of a recluse during his playing days, try to help all kids who need bone marrow. "I didn't think it should just be me, me, me," Michelle says. "There's all these other kids on the floor, so many in other hospitals who need this stuff, and I have a father who can do it. He did, and he did a pretty darn good job."
Rod Carew was 12 when he got four hits off his father, Eric, in a fast-pitch softball game. "That night he whipped the daylights out of me," Rod says. "I was so accustomed to the blows they didn't even faze me." Carew said his father "didn't care about me; he wished I wasn't born."
Carew remains close to his mother, Olga, who lives in New York. As for his father, "I don't know or care where he lives," Rod says. "I haven't talked to him since 1984."
The day after Carew graduated from high school in 1964, he signed with the Minnesota Twins, and after three minor league seasons he launched a wildly successful big league career in which he won seven American League batting titles, most-valuable-player (1977) and rookie-of-the-year (1967) honors, and was named to 18 all-star teams. He had a .328 career batting average, 3,053 hits and was enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame in 1991.
But fans knew little about Carew because he often avoided reporters and was hardly embraced by the media. He hated talking about himself--it was part of the emotional barriers he put up because he was an abused child--but instead of ignoring the media he sometimes lashed out at reporters, creating stormy clubhouse relationships throughout the league. In fact, when a young Twin or Angel player would show disdain for the media, reporters would call him "another Rod Carew."
But when Rod saw how few African Americans were registered in the bone marrow program; when the plea came from Michelle last November "to be my voice," he did something that seemed so unnatural to him--he called a reporter. And then another. And another.
Newspapers began running stories on the Carews' plight. Rod appeared on national television programs and taped public service announcements seeking donors for Michelle and others. He began stopping strangers on the street, handing them business cards with the phone number (1-800-MARROW2) of the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis.
He even wrote to Abigail Van Buren, who printed Carew's plea in her syndicated column: "Time is running out for my daughter. The percentages are not in her favor. . . . Our prayer is that the awareness of our daughter's need, and the need of so many others, will motivate people to action."
The response was overwhelming. Letters poured in from all over the world. People sent good-luck charms, such as four-leaf clovers and small angels. Michelle received enough stuffed animals to open a carnival booth. Upon hearing of Michelle's wish to see snow falling, a New Jersey man sent a video of a snowstorm. The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited. Novelist Tom Clancy called. Angel players came by the hospital. One inmate who was serving his 20th year in prison sent a letter, offering to be tested.
"It has been unreal," Carew said.
When Michelle became ill, neighbors helped keep the Carews' refrigerator stocked, house cleaned and their pets--they have seven dogs, 10 cats and two snakes--fed. But as the media picked up on the story--there were even pleas on the Internet--both friends and strangers began organizing bone marrow drives, and the National Marrow Donor Program, whose registry increased gradually since its 1987 inception, experienced a dramatic jump in members.
"I'm sure lives will be saved because of them," said Bonnie Martin, a spokesperson for the marrow program.
Angel infielder Rex Hudler, a frequent CHOC visitor, never knew about the bone marrow program. "But Rod opened my eyes," he said. "He has increased awareness around the world. He has humbly put himself in a position where he's needed, and because of him, something positive will come of this. He's a changed man."
Once aloof and unapproachable, Carew is now accessible and emotional. He has opened up to friends and cried in front of strangers. Carew, who tutors Angel batters during the week in Tempe, Ariz., but goes home to visit Michelle on weekends, has granted interviews almost daily during spring training. The more he talks, the more media outlets he reaches, the better the chance donors will be found for Michelle and others.
"It's scary that such a bad thing had to happen to wake people up," Michelle says. "What if I didn't get leukemia? Would there be all these blood drives? I don't think so, and that's kind of scary. But because of me and my father, hopefully other people will have a better chance."