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The Carews—Rod, Marilynn and daughters Charryse, 9, and Michelle, 5—are sitting on a blanket away from the other parents and friends of the players, who are clustered near home plate at the Peralta Canyon Park playground. "The first time Rod came to one of these games, the whole team left the field to get his autograph," says Marilynn. "That's why we stay out here in right-field." The youngest daughter is now importuning the oldest to take her to the snack bar. Rod hands Charryse some money and sends the two of them off. "Charryse is a real hot dog," he says, watching them. "She loves to hit. I'll come home and she'll ask me how I did and I'll say I got four hits and she'll say, 'So did I.' I figure there are only so many hits in a family, so one of us will have to slow down."
Stephanie is at the plate now. "She bats left, throws right, just like her dad," says Marilynn. And just like her dad, she singles sharply to the opposite field—that is, to the left side of the infield. Rod is elated. Stephanie turns back from first base to smile at the family. Rod snaps her picture, and then, noticing that she's tugging at her jersey, he beseeches her to pay attention.
"I try to come to every one of the kids' games, but I miss a lot because of my traveling. When I'm here I yell for them, but I don't want to get too involved," he says, changing camera lenses. "I want them to just go out and enjoy themselves. Kids are so aware, they can surprise you. There is pressure on them. When they first started playing softball, the other kids would expect too much of them because they were my daughters. And if they'd do something well, the other kids would say, 'Well, you're Rod Carew's daughter.' Charryse would come to me and say, 'Daddy, because you're a good player, does that mean I have to be?' No, I'd tell her. The idea is to have a good time. I tell them that I make errors and I strike out, too. Everybody does. I want to encourage my daughters to do a lot of things. I want them to be careful with their schoolwork, make sure they do it right. We're very strict with them. We don't allow them to go places by themselves. We don't want them accepting rides from strangers and we don't want them bringing strangers to the house. We want to instill certain things in their minds about taking care of themselves. We're not trying to hurt them, just stop them from being hurt."
Stephanie is tagged out trying to score from third on an infield grounder. Carew disagrees with the call. "She missed her with the ball," he says quietly. The autograph seekers are now upon him—little boys and girls with caps, gloves and balls, convoyed by embarrassed mothers and fathers. Carew tries to appear busy with his camera equipment, but he dutifully signs all of the items proffered. One father, a mustachioed man in shorts, risks conversation, although Carew hardly seems the type who would engage in idle chitchat with strangers. "I've got a daughter in each one of these leagues," the man says. "All three of them." Carew looks up beaming. "I've got three daughters too," he tells the stranger. "Wonderful, isn't it?" Encouraged now, the man ventures, "Sure is. The way I look at it, a son will leave you eventually, but a daughter will love you all your life." Carew nods thoughtfully. "That's really true, isn't it," he says. The man walks off, waving. Carew calls after him, "Good luck, and take care of those girls."
It's nearing noon now and getting hot. The game is over, and Stephanie's team has lost. It isn't something she broods about. In fact, as a joke, she stands in line with the autograph seekers. Her father playfully pushes her away. The Carews then stroll past several diamonds that make up this playground complex. Rod carrying his cameras and camera bag. They live only a few minutes from the playground and only 10 minutes from Anaheim Stadium. They reach the Wagoneer, and he piles his stuff in the back. The children will ride back with their mother in another car; he'll take the Wagoneer.
Later Carew says, "I'm glad I don't have a son. I wouldn't want a boy to go through the pressure of following in my footsteps. I see these other players bringing their sons into the clubhouse. The kids grow up around big league ballplayers. They get to be big in school because of it. Then they have too much to live up to. It's too much. The kids should be able to do whatever they want to do. It's bad enough, as it is, with my daughters. I've had kids ask my oldest daughter for my autograph. That's not right. I tell her, 'You're your own person. You don't have to do that.' "
Carew was born on a train transporting his mother, Olga, from the rural community of Gatun, Panama to the no less rural community of Ancon, which at least had a clinic. When Mrs. Carew went into labor, she was attended at first by a black nurse named Margaret Allen, who then sent the conductor to the white section of the train to bring back an American physician, Dr. Rodney Cline. The nurse became the boy's godmother, and the doctor was honored in another way: Mrs. Carew named her baby Rodney Cline Carew.
Carew's father, Eric, worked on the canal as a painter; his mother, now a hospital therapist in New York, was a maid. Carew, his older brother and three sisters all slept in the same room. He learned to hit with a broomstick and a tennis ball when he was seven, but soon developed more sophisticated skills under the tutelage of his uncle, Joseph French, a physical education instructor. "I always had a talent for baseball," Carew says. "I was a superstar at 11." But not for long. That year he was stricken with rheumatic fever and hospitalized for six months. The illness may have widened the already wide breach between him and his macho father.
"I never felt close to my dad," Carew said one day while icing his sore knee. "I was very sick as a kid. There was always something wrong with me. I was timid and quiet. All that time I was in the hospital, my dad never came to see me. I don't know why. I was always very close to my mother. I've searched all these years to find out what was wrong between my dad and me. I never understood why it should be that way. I was a good student. I always did what I was told. I never bothered anyone. There wasn't a teacher in school who could say I was a bad kid.
"My older brother, who was bigger and stronger, was a holy terror. Maybe the reason my dad was so hard on me was that I wasn't healthy. My brother would fight in a minute. I'd always walk away. Once when I did walk away, my father beat me and told me to go back and fight and not come home until I had. I went back. What could I do? If I stayed home, my father would beat me some more. Well, the other kid knocked me down four times, but I thought, 'Better here than at home.' Eventually I got the better of him. Then the principal of the school called me in and hit my hands with a heavy belt. It looked like I was getting it everywhere.