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BASEBALL EXTRA

Rite of Passage for Carew, Angels

Baseball: As off-season nears, he contemplates upcoming trip to daughter's grave site in Minneapolis.

September 28, 1997|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Manager Terry Collins dived headlong onto a sofa in front of a big-screen television in the Angel clubhouse and loudly demanded to know the score of an obscure college football game. Relief pitcher Mike James was taking his T-shirt collection off hangers and folding them for off-season storage.

It was hardly the routine pregame regimen, but the Angels skipped batting practice before Saturday night's game against the Texas Rangers--a game the Angels won, 8-7, in front of 21,676 at Anaheim Stadium--and spent the time joking, relaxing and discussing plans for the off-season.

Visions of fishing poles, Jet Skis and exotic Caribbean beaches danced in many a player's head, but batting coach Rod Carew was pensive, with a different image in mind: his daughter Michelle's grave.

Michelle was only 18 when she succumbed to leukemia April 17, 1996, but her battle against the disease resulted in an international outpouring of support and a surge in the pool of potential bone-marrow donors.

In a couple of days, Carew will pack the motor home in which he and his wife, Marilynn, lived in a hospital parking lot for the last seven months of Michelle's life and head for Minneapolis' United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery and the family plot where Michelle rests.

Carew says he'll take his time getting there and take his time when he arrives.

"I want to spend some time at the grave, hang out with her, talk to her," he said. "And I want to make sure it's ready for winter."

Carew returned to the Angels two weeks after his daughter's death because "that's what Michelle wanted me to do," and says he's not sure if he has ever had the time to properly grieve.

"But coming back right away helped to alleviate a lot of the pain for me," he said. "She probably knew that would happen. I guess I really haven't had the time to fully deal with it, if you can ever do that, but maybe this will provide some measure of closure for me."

Carew, 52, is a seven-time American League batting champion and Hall of Famer who played the last seven years of his career with the Angels. He says he's not ready to retire and hopes to return as the Angels' hitting instructor next year. Collins said recently that any coach who wants to return in 1998 will be welcomed back, but Carew isn't sure it's that easy.

"I'd like to come back, and I know what Terry said, but we still have to deal with people upstairs," Carew said. "It's all new management that I'll be dealing with."

Carew indicated he believes salary negotiations could be a stumbling block.

"Am I anticipating problems?" he said, "Well, maybe. I will say that nobody's going to hold a gun to my head and hold me up."

A number of Angels--including shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who credits Carew with helping him mature into a competent major league hitter--are hoping he stays. To many players, Carew is a guru who both smooths their swings and soothes their minds.

"You have to use different approaches with different players," Carew says. "And when things go wrong, it's usually more mental than mechanical."

During Carew's first four years as hitting instructor, the Angels' team batting average escalated from .243 to .260 to .264 to .277. It was .276 last year and is .274 this year.

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