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ANN CONWAY

Carew to Take a Swing to Help Beat Pediatric Cancer

May 13, 1996|ANN CONWAY

Rod Carew is having a rare laugh as he sits in the dugout at Anaheim Stadium.

A tournament in his name is being staged at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach on May 30.

"I'm not a golfer--haven't played in almost six years," Carew said, chuckling. "I play military golf--left, right, left, right."

But when the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation of Children's Hospital of Orange County invited Carew to lend his name to their annual tournament, the Baseball Hall of Famer had to say yes.

Carew's 18-year old daughter, Michelle, died in April after a seven-month battle with leukemia. During the course of her care at CHOC in Orange, Carew saw many young people fighting cancer.

"I don't get involved in too many things. I'm very particular . . . but this is a very worthy cause," said Carew, a quiet man with a penchant for privacy.

"We just have too many kids dying of this disease. Hopefully, we can draw as much attention to that as possible by having a tournament. We need to raise funds to help the hospital find a cure."

Established in 1982 to help improve the quality of life and survival rate of children with malignant disease, the foundation has raised more than $4 million for the Pediatric Cancer Research Laboratory at CHOC. Proceeds from the benefit--which includes a gala dinner May 29 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine--are expected to be about $200,000, saids Susan Reid, the foundation's executive director.

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A few hours before game-time last week, Carew, batting coach for the California Angels, was joined in the dugout by retired baseball star Doug DeCinces, a close friend who sponsors an annual golf tourney for the Orangewood Children's home.

DeCinces is helping Carew line up celebrities for his tournament and dinner. "It's a difficult time of year," DeCinces said. "Baseball players are in season. But we're getting as many as we can, including greats from basketball and hockey."

After they indulged in some bantering on the field--"This is about as close as I get to golf," Carew said to DeCinces as they mugged with golf clubs near third base--Carew began to talk about Michelle. "Her room . . . Marilynn and I just can't touch it yet," he said.

"We have decided to leave it all alone for a while. Eventually, we plan to give everything away. Everything but her shoes. I couldn't bear to part with her shoes."

DeCinces eyes glisten with tears. Privately, he said: "I've known Rod on a different level from a lot of people. When you play ball with someone and become close family friends--go through blood, sweat and tears together--then see him go through something like this . . . well, it affects me too. I am still emotional about it."

One of the most frustrating things for DeCinces, he said, is "that statistics show that children's cancer is the single most underfinanced area in cancer research."

"That just blows me away. Here you have an opportunity to save a person with the longest life span. . . . You don't want any adult to die of cancer either, but certainly not kids."

Cards for Carew and his wife, Marilynn, continue to pour into CHOC at a rate of more than 100 per day, Reid said.

The couple are humbled by the show of support. "We could never imagine that it would be as overwhelming as it has been," Carew said. "We have thousands of letters we are trying to read and answer."

When they are through with the letters, they plan to burn them, Carew said. "A friend has told us it is a Chinese custom to place them in a bag or barrel and burn them. That way, they'll go up and Michelle can read them."

The two-day benefit will give hundreds of fans the chance to wish Carew well in person. "I might play a couple of holes," Carew said. "But mostly, I'll just ride around and talk to people, thank them for getting involved, caring, helping, because it's needed."

Tournament fees are $500 per player and $3,000 for a corporate sponsorship, benefit chairman David L. Parker said. Dinner tickets--which include a live auction and performance by sports commentator Roy Firestone--are $100 each. "We anticipate a quick sellout," Parker said.

Highlighting the dinner will be a tribute to Michelle Carew and other pediatric cancer patients at CHOC.

"It is important for people to remember that this is about all kids with cancer. That's the way Michelle would have wanted it," Carew said. "That's all she cared about. She wasn't too concerned about herself; she felt she was going to be OK. But she had seen all the kids when she was able to leave her room, knew what they were going through.

"I think she understood from the start the program she was going to go through, and if she didn't make it, she hoped it would help other kids. She was a giver. That's the kind of kid she was."

For tournament information, call (714) 532-8692.

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A sophisticated luncheon: Metamorphosis was the theme of last week's luncheon staged by the Sophisticates, a support group of the Assessment and Treatment Services Center in Newport Beach.

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