CEDAR RAPIDS – Rod Carew came across a pair of Cedar Rapids Kernels players hitting off a tee in the batting cage next to the home clubhouse late Saturday afternoon.
Here, let me throw to you, he told what had to be rather startled Chad Christensen and Bryan Haar.
When a Hall of Famer, one of the best pure hitters ever to play baseball wants to throw batting practice to you, you let him. If he wants to give you some advice, listen.
It obviously worked out for Haar, in particular, as he homered twice, including a grand slam, and drove in seven runs — all in the first two innings — in the Kernels’ 9-5 rain-shortened win over Clinton at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The game was banged in the top of the seventh inning.
“He had to get loose for the first pitch,” Haar said. “So he was like ‘All right, step in there.’ I took about 10 swings off of him. It was pretty cool.”
Carew goes to spring training every year and works with players, so this wasn’t the first time Haar and Christensen had run across him. Still ...
“With the young players, I tell them ‘You work hard at the minor-league level and you have to keep working hard because no one is going to give you anything to get to the big leagues,’” said Carew, part of a Twins Night promotion at the ballpark. “You have to learn the game, understand the game, who you are, know what you are capable of doing and stay with it.
“Sometimes I think young players think they have to hit the ball out of the ballpark to get to the big leagues. I try to tell them that if you try and square the ball up every time you take a swing and be consistent, that’s what the organization is looking for.”
Carew, 68, signed his first professional contract with the Twins 50 years ago this week. He did plenty of signing Saturday, spending over an hour pregame doing it for an extremely long line of fans on the stadium concourse.
He penned the odd autograph or two or three on the suite level for fans in between doing interviews with radio, newspaper and website reporters. Carew, who lives in California, remembered being in Cedar Rapids one other time, for a father-son type banquet in the middle of the winter either in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
“Growing up and playing with Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, those are guys I learned a lot from,” said Carew, an 18-time all-star who finished with 3,053 career hits and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. “We remained friends until Harmon’s death (in May 2011). The one thing I learned from Harmon was that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. When he told me that, I just thought to myself that I’m going to go through the rest of my life, and whatever happens, I am going to be nice to people.”
Carew said he was greatly affected by the recent death of fellow Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. He called Gwynn a friend, someone he visited with often, including about the art of hitting.
The two were very similar: lefty swingers with unbelievable bat control and the ability to hit to all fields.
“He was a guy with a big heart,” Carew said. “He had a big heart and was always willing to help people. He reminded me so much of Harmon, a very humble person away from the baseball field. He would talk to anyone. It was the same with Tony Oliva. You could walk up to them and talk to them about anything.”
Haar smashed a 3-1 pitcher well over the fence in left-center field for a three-run home run in the first inning. Bo Altobelli hit a solo shot leading off the second, then with two outs and the bases juiced, Haar hit a towering fly that carried just over the wall in dead center.
The Kernels improved to 34-45 overall, 3-6 in the second half. The teams play the third game of their four-game series Sunday afternoon at 2:05.
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