Baseball Hall of Famer and 18-time All-Star Rod Carew, who played 19 years with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels from 1967-1985, underwent life-saving heart and kidney transplant surgery in December 2016. His heart and kidney came from former NFL tight end Konrad Reuland, who died of a brain aneurysm the same month. Reuland played four games for the Ravens in 2015, including one start.
“One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs,” a new book by Carew and Jaime Aron, details the obstacles Carew has had to overcome in life. Carew, 74, joined Glenn Clark Radio May 18 to talk about the Reuland family, his book and more.
PressBox: We got to know Konrad Reuland a little bit here in Baltimore years ago. We’ve had the pleasure of chatting with his parents a couple times. I don’t think I knew the full extent of it because you had lost a child yourself. Do you shake your head thinking about how impossible this story is the way that it’s unfolded in this latter portion of your life?
Rod Carew: Yes, I have because after losing Michelle, it’s the hardest thing for a parent to go through. And then watching what the Reulands went through losing their son, it just brought back memories of my time losing Michelle. But God has his way of doing things. What I’ve learned is that he has our lives in his hands. He has us on a schedule to see how long we’re going to be on this earth. It’s hurtful to some of us who have lost children, but on the other hand, he’s the Father. He’s the one that tells us what to do and gives us insight into what’s going to happen. We can’t be angry, can’t be mad. You just have to accept it.
PB: The story about your granddaughter and their granddaughter playing together now – if we put that scene in a movie, people might not believe it. They might say it’s too crazy.
RC: It’s a crazy story, [just like] the way I met Konrad when he was an 11-year-old at school where my kids went to school. I was there one day to watch a basketball game. His brother was playing and my son was playing. I saw him outside and he came up to me and says, “You’re Rod Carew, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” He says, “When I grow up I want to be an athlete.” I says, “Make sure you study first. Education’s important.” He says, “Oh, I’ve got good grades.” I says, “Good.” That was it. I hadn’t seen him after that until I think 29 years later – or less than that, I guess. For him to come back into my life and saving my life by donating a heart and a kidney, boy, you’re right about it being a movie.
PB: I remember you guys being here in Baltimore, and you wrote about being invited to Baltimore and the relationship the Reulands have with the Harbaughs. You’re a beloved figure in Minnesota and Los Angeles and throughout baseball, but have you gotten a sense for how much this story has meant with everyone you’ve shared it with?
RC: I hope that it means a lot to people because that’s why we did the book – to reach out to people, to let them understand that they have to take care of themselves that want to live. Don’t just look at the heart on the outside side, look at the heart on the inside also because that’s where the little things happen. We hope that it reaches a lot of people and people take the time to read it and try to understand it and do something about themselves.
PB: My favorite story is that you became a coffee drinker after the transplant. For those who don’t know, can you tell the story about this thing that changed after you received Konrad’s heart?
RC: I didn’t drink coffee. After the heart transplant, I started drinking coffee so I said to Mary, “Does Konrad drink coffee?” She says, “Yeah, all day. He liked it just with cream.” I says, “You’re kidding. I never drank coffee.” All the sudden, I’m drinking four, five cups a day, and I was drinking two cups before I went to bed. I said, “Man, this kid’s got a hold on me.”
PB: Mary had shared with us years ago that the last text that she got from Konrad. She referenced that he had a strong Christian faith as well. The text ended with this quote: “I can’t wait to see where His will brings me.” How much have you carried that with you since then, like in a way you feel like you’re living out his mission, too?
RC: Ever since I was a child, my mom always told me, “God’s always going to be there for you. He’s always going to protect you. He’s always going to be there.” So if you have faith and if you believe, those things do happen. My faith and trust in God continues because I know that He’s going to keep doing things for Him and the community. You can’t go wrong when you stay with Him.
PB: This year, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the night that Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record. I still have this image in my head of him walking by the Angels’ dugout that night and shaking everybody’s hands and being polite and letting them have that moment, but then he embraced you. For him to embrace you that way in that moment, can you take me back to that? (Carew was the Angels’ hitting coach.)
RC: From the time Cal came up, we developed sort of a friendship. To watch him play his whole career and have that night — that special night that so many people came out to see – was unbelievable. He always took time for the fans before games signing autographs and things like that. For him to see me and come over, I was really thrilled because he knew how much I wanted to pay my respect to him. It was just a happy occasion for me to be there at that time.
PB: I talked to Jim Gott, who had pitched in the first game of the streak. He was there to give Cal the game ball. It was Jim’s first career win. He said, “I felt like I was one of the wise men bringing a gift to Baby Jesus that night.” That’s how much it meant to him. What was that night like for you?
RC: When you watch a young man come up and you watch him go out there every day and play, you developed a great respect for him. That’s what we had for Cal: respect. He played the game the way the game is supposed to be played. I was the second wise man that was there that night. I appreciated it. Kudos to that guy for being able to do what he did.
PB: Do you happen to know what the longest streak of consecutive games you played in was?
RC: No, I don’t. My body didn’t hold up like his did.
For more from Carew, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins