Rod Carew, First Pitch, Clyde Wright, shaking hands,

Rod Carew and Clyde Wright following the first pitch. Photo courtesy Angels.

ANAHEIM, California – This time last year, Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew and Clyde Wright were pretty good friends. As alumni of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who still live in the area, their paths crossed several times each season and they always enjoyed catching up.

They were together again Tuesday night, right in the middle of the field at Angel Stadium. And their conversation went far beyond small talk; it was about how close each came to dying from heart disease and how proud they are to help in the fight against the No. 1 killer of Americans.

“We’re lucky to be doing this,” Carew said. “We’re lucky to be able to do this.”

Heart of 29 and Angels logo on a patch, worn by a team executive

Heart of 29 and Angels logo on a patch, worn by a team executive

Carew threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Wright as part of the Angels’ celebration of Heart of 29, the campaign Carew launched with the American Heart Association to boost awareness and prevention of heart disease. The campaign takes its name from the jersey number Carew wore throughout his playing career. It’s especially significant around the Angels because Carew is among only three players whose jersey number the team has retired, meaning that nobody else can ever wear it.

Carew suffered a massive heart attack and multiple episodes of cardiac arrest last Sept. 20, then went into extreme heart failure. The left side of his heart was too damaged to effectively pump blood to his body so doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. As he fought for his life, Carew told his wife Rhonda that he wanted to use his story to boost awareness and prevention of heart disease. That promise blossomed into Heart of 29 and the first step was publicizing his ordeal. The news hit Wright hard. Knowing that Carew was younger and in seemingly better shape, Wright decided to get his heart checked; days later, he underwent a quadruple bypass. He’s so grateful to Carew that on the day he turned 75, Wright called Carew to thank him for making the birthday possible. When they’re together now, they embrace like brothers and say they love each other.

Carew and Wright in the dugout. Photo courtesy of Angels.

Carew and Wright in the dugout. Photo courtesy of Angels.

The Angels became the third team to hold a Heart of 29 game, joining the Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Twins happened to be the opponent on this night and they took part in the celebration, too. During batting practice, the Twins wore the Heart of 29 logo on their hats, while the Angels wore it on their chests.

Rod signs for Carew

Carew signs his autobiography “Carew” for 5-year-old Carew Ramos

The Angels further helped the cause by selling tickets that included a donation to the American Heart Association and came with an Angels cap featuring a Heart of 29 logo on the side. Among the buyers was Brittany Brockett, who is such a big Carew fan that she used his last name as the first name of her son. Carew Ramos is now a 5-year-old baseball player – an All-Star, even – and got to meet his namesake before the game. It was Brockett’s first time around him, too.

“I was born in 1985, the last year he played for the Angels, and I came to my first game in diapers,” she said. “When I was pregnant, I thought `Carew’ would be a great first name. My friends weren’t sure at first, but now everyone loves it. … I was so upset when I heard that Mr. Carew was sick. I’m so glad he’s doing better. Getting to meet him tonight, it’s so surreal.”

Asked his favorite position to play, Carew Ramos said “every.” His mom laughed and prompted him by asking about second base.

“That’s my top favorite,” he said. Told that Rod Carew was a second baseman for much of his career, the boy smiled wide.

Rod and Carew posed

Angels stars Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun were among the many well-wishers who visited Carew during batting practice. “We’re thinking about you,” Trout said as he hugged Carew goodbye.

Mike Trout (right) and Kole Calhoun (left) greet Carew. Both are wearing Heart of 29 logos.

Mike Trout (right) and Kole Calhoun (left) greet Carew.

Twins star Joe Mauer sent his regards. Under his warmup shirt, Mauer had on the Heart of 29 T-shirt that everyone in his organization wore on the first day of spring training. Mauer said he wears it every game and smiled as he noted that he’s probably going to need a new one soon as this one is wearing out.

Twins star Joe Mauer shows off his Heart of 29 logo. A Heart of 29 T-shirt is beneath his warmup top.

Twins star Joe Mauer models the Heart of 29 logo. A Heart of 29 T-shirt is beneath his warmup top.

Carew chats with friends before the game. Photo courtesy of Angels.

Carew chats with friends before the game. Photo courtesy of Angels.

When Carew went onto the field to get ready for the first pitch with Wright, he caught up with more of his baseball contemporaries, including Angels manager Mike Scioscia and coaches Gary DiSarcina and Ron Roenicke. Over the course of the night, he also chatted with Bud Black, Bobby Grich and Darrell Miller.

In every conversation, Carew’s message was the same: “Go get your heart checked.”

During the game, Carew spread that message and more during separate stints with the TV and radio crews of both teams. He also spent a half-inning with the Angels’ Spanish broadcaster. (A native of Panama, Carew is fluent in Spanish.)

“This campaign is not about me, it’s about all the other people out there that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do to take care of themselves,” Carew told the Angels TV crew of Mark Gubicza and Victor Rojas. “I felt like I was a healthy guy until I was punched in the face and found out that I had a big problem. … Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in this country and it doesn’t have to be. There are certain steps you can take to prevent it.”

Carew with the Twins TV crew (Bert Blyleven, far right; Dick Bremer, far left) and Angels VP Tim Mead

Carew with Twins TV broadcasters (Bert Blyleven, far right; Dick Bremer, far left) and Angels VP Tim Mead.

Worn out by all the events, Carew returned to a suite filled with family and friends. They included Wright, who gave Carew a bag filled with fresh vegetables grown in his garden, as well as Dr. Dan Meyer and his family. Meyer was among the surgeons who implanted Carew’s LVAD. He now lives in Dallas, but planned a family vacation to Disneyland in conjunction with attending this game.

Carew and Dr. Dan Meyer

Carew and Dr. Dan Meyer

Carew’s campaign will continue across Major League Baseball this summer, with events being planned for the All-Star Game and during Hall of Fame weekend. Ceremonies at other stadiums are possible, too.

Things will slow down in late July, however, as Carew hopes to go on the heart transplant waiting list. If all goes well, he could have a new heart before the World Series.