MINNEAPOLIS -- I had one sports idol as a boy and his name was Rod Carew.
Such was the case for a boy whose uncle, Johnny Goryl, was Carew's teammate in the Twins' system in the 1960s and who later coached and managed the Twins in over a half-century of service to the game. I loved Carew. We would play one-on-one Wiffle ball in the streets of my neighborhood in Southern Indiana, and my "lineup" was Rod Carew leading off, Rod Carew batting second, and so on through No. 9 hitter Rod Carew.
In 1991, shortly after I became a baseball writer for the rest of my life, I covered my first Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the San Jose Mercury News. Coincidentally, it was Carew's induction. Along the way, I worked the 2010 All-Star week in Anaheim, where Carew was an All-Star Ambassador thanks to a 1979 trade before Spring Training. It would always make me think of the way No. 29 stood in that left side of the batter's box, waving his magic wand on the way to 3,053 hits.
But nothing has excited me quite like spending a summer Friday night in Eastern Minneapolis, a tape-measure home run away from the Mississippi River, attending the dedication of the Rod Carew All-Star Field as part of this All-Star week. It was your hero and your boyhood all rolled up into one. Two teams of 11- and 12-year-olds representing the Saint Paul and the Birmingham (Ala.) RBI teams sat along the third-base line as Carew took the podium as the last dignitary to speak.
"I am truly honored," he told the audience on the spectacularly renovated field, standing on the synthetic surface's mound. "I never imagined that growing up as a kid, that I would have a field named after me. But baseball was and has been my life ever since I was 7. When I look at these youngsters, I think about myself as a kid growing up and thinking about how much I loved to play a game."
He was born in Panama, on a train, and he grew up in New York. In 1967, Carew was a rookie second baseman for the Twins and he made the American League All-Star team. It started an 18-year streak, ending when he wasn't selected in his swan song with the Angels.
With this 85th All-Star Game looming on Tuesday at Target Field, hosted by his former club, I asked Carew which of the 18 All-Star selections meant the most to him.
"My first one," he replied, "because I was a 20-year-old kid. And here I'm on the field with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Gibson, Ernie Banks, some of the greats of the game that I grew up admiring. To be on the field with these players of this caliber, I was just excited.
"This is where my career took off -- the Twins' organization, where I spent 12 years. I lived in the Twin Cities, in the dead cold of winter, when I played for the Twins. To be able to come back and take part in the All-Star Game, it's an honor that the Twins' organization and Major League Baseball would have invited me back to be a part of it. ... If I can put my name on a field where it's going to help kids, then it's worth it."
Twins owner Jim Pohlad and Twins president Dave St. Peter were seated alongside him for the dedication, as were MLB executive vice president/business Tim Brosnan, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation president Steve Salem and Liz Wielinski, director of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. Now-retired Twins broadcaster John Gordon emceed the event.
"We're happy to be honoring a great person and a great man in Rod Carew," Pohlad said. "In creating a legacy for the 2014 All-Star Game, which we are honored to be hosting, and the partnership with MLB is essential to making this a lasting impact on our community. Their contribution is unprecedented."
This was the fifth field-renovation announcement in the Twin Cities over a 48-hour span for Pohlad and many of these dignitaries. Twins legends are playing a key role at each community event this week. For me, there could be nothing like seeing the idol who inspired you to love baseball.
"Major League Baseball, the Twins' organization and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation continue to give all these kids an opportunity to play this great game of baseball," Carew said during his speech, with a scoreboard bearing his name in the background. "We all have dreams. I had dreams of one day becoming a Major League Baseball player. I'm sure that these young people have dreams of one day becoming a baseball player, and who knows, maybe ending up in the Hall of Fame like I did.
"So I'm going to challenge you young men, not only on the baseball field, but also in the classroom, because that's where it starts. Study hard when you're at school, listen to your parents. Listen to the coaches who are working with you, because they're trying to make you better. They're trying to make you excel in life. They're here, and if you have questions, don't be afraid to ask them."
It was a Friday night, and honestly you wished there had been 45,000 fans at this field.
"I was fortunate to have people in my life, growing up as a young person, that helped me grow as a person and as a baseball player," Carew said, speaking to kids but talking to all Twins fans. "I had a roommate for 11 years, Tony Oliva, who taught me how to play the game. I had a great friend, Harmon Killebrew, who also gave me great advice on how to carry myself and how to treat people. The greatest thing I learned from Harmon Killebrew is that it doesn't cost anything to be nice. No matter who you are, no matter where you go, don't forget who you are and where you came from."
Carew has not forgotten.
He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Rod Carew All-Star Field. Before the ceremony, he stood out in left field, on the perfect green turf, and talked to the young players.
"I was trying to encourage them about learning to play hard, and who knows, maybe one day they might be in the big leagues," Carew said. "So they were all like, 'Yeah, we want to get there.' So I told them, 'Just practice hard, learn to play the game, listen to your coaches.'
"It gives these kids an opportunity to get away from gangs, find something that they can do with their lives. And if by doing that, and building these fields so they can accomplish something, that's why we're here. We have to encourage them to take part in any sporting event they want to participate in."
The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow fans to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.