MINNEAPOLIS — Less than six months after a frail Rod Carew lay in his hospital bed and told his wife he wanted to help fight heart disease, the baseball Hall of Famer has gotten his biggest hit yet in delivering his message.

Carew’s campaign to boost awareness and prevention of the No. 1 killer of Americans took center stage Wednesday night at Target Field, home of his longtime team, the Minnesota Twins.

In and around the stadium, and on television and radio broadcasts, fans were exposed to “Heart of 29,” the awareness effort named for the jersey Carew wore throughout his career. The most prominent display came on the chests of the ballplayers.

Kepler in jersey

Twins outfielder Max Kepler swings wearing his Heart of 29 patch. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins.

Twins players and coaches wore heart-shaped Heart of 29 patches on the upper right side of their new, Carew-inspired red jerseys. That part was planned. The surprise was seeing the patches on the same spot of the gray jerseys of their opponent, the Chicago White Sox, and on the black shirts of the umpires. Anyone watching the game or even just seeing highlights couldn’t help but notice Heart of 29.

“Unbelievable,” Carew said.

Rodon in jersey

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon with the Heart of 29 patch on his jersey. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins.

Carew seemed to be in good health when he suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest Sept. 20. Doctors saved his life, but he soon was in jeopardy again because of severe heart failure; the muscle no longer effectively pumped oxygen-rich blood to the rest of his body. Unable to handle the rigors of a transplant, he instead received a machine that does the pumping for the left side of his heart.

The 70-year-old Carew is feeling back to his pre-heart attack form. The only difference is carrying around the gear related to his left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, but he’s become so comfortable with it that he compares the burden to wearing glasses. A recent check-up went so well that doctors are ready to start preparing him to go on a transplant waiting list.

Heart of 29 and baseball have played key roles in his recovery, both keeping him on the go. His first trip since his ordeal was to Minneapolis in January to launch his campaign. Starting in late February, he spent three weeks at Twins spring training in Florida, sharing his expertise in hitting; Carew won seven batting titles, pounding out 3,053 hits with a career average of .328. He returned to Minnesota this week to throw out the first pitch at the Twins’ home opener Monday.

After the usual fanfare of the first home game, the Twins made Heart of 29 the focus of their second home game.

Heart disease survivors Barb Olene and Seng Prom were invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. As they headed to the mound, the public address announcer shared their stories:

  • Olene’s father and four brothers died young of heart attacks. She, too, suffered a heart attack but has since lost over 50 pounds and quit smoking to improve and extend her life.
  • Prom fled Cambodia as a young man and came to the United States, ultimately learning that he was born with a heart defect. He later went into heart failure. Five years ago, he received a heart transplant.

As Prom’s story was being told, he dropped to the grass and pumped out several pushups. When Carew delivered the baseballs they would throw, Prom hugged Carew and tried lifting him off the ground.

Following the tosses, Carew and Barbara Ducharme, the executive director of the AHA in the Twin Cities, accepted a check for $10,000 from Twins president Dave St. Peter and community relations director Bryan Donaldson.

St. Peter and the Twins have supported Heart of 29 since it was an idea in a hospital room. They’ve attached a large Heart of 29 banner on the wall in right-center field and are wearing their new red jerseys on Friday home games throughout the season. Fans can get a red Twins jersey with Carew’s name and number by purchasing special tickets for Friday games in April and May, with a portion of ticket sales benefitting the AHA.

Carew and heart disease prevention remained ongoing themes throughout the evening.

Another survivor and AHA volunteer, Stevie Nelson, was introduced as the honorary flag raiser before the national anthem. In the middle of the third inning, the video board showed two fans taking part in a game in which one gave clues to help the other name various things that are good for your heart, such as strawberries, nuts and walking. Later, a picture of Carew and a doctored image of that same picture were used in a “spot the differences” challenge.

As nice as all the visible reminders were, Carew’s message was perhaps best spread during the time he spent in the broadcast booths.

Carew spent the third inning with the Twins radio team and the fourth inning with the Twins TV crew. In the first half of the fifth, he joined the White Sox TV team.

Rod with TV crew

Rod Carew discusses Heart of 29 on the Twins’ TV broadcast with former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, with his on-air partner Dick Bremer watching. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins.

“We just want to teach people about their hearts – make sure that they take care of them, make sure that they get a physical and make sure that everything is OK,” Carew told the Chicago audience.

“I’m not supposed to be alive,” told the Twins radio listeners. “So I’m going to treasure every day and do everything that I can to help.”

Minnesota’s TV broadcasters included Bert Blyleven, Carew’s longtime teammate and fellow Hall of Famers. Their close relationship was evident in their on-air chat. When Carew said he felt normal again, Blyleven jabbed, “Oh, you’re being ornery now!”

Mauer in jersey

Twins first baseman Joe Mauer in action with his Heart of 29 patch. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins.

“Not only being ornery,” Carew said, laughing, “but I’m cleaning. I’m walking around the house and picking things up. Nothing should be out of place. … I’m right around where I was before I became sick. The thing that I’ve noticed about myself is I’m feeling stronger. I can lift things that I couldn’t lift after the operation.”

Carew and Heart of 29 will be taking part in the Twin Cities Heart Walk at Target Field on May 14. Heart of 29 also will be spotlighted at upcoming games at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium of Anaheim, with events being planned for All-Star Week and Hall of Fame weekend. He’s hoping more teams join the campaign.

“If we can just get all the clubs involved, just think about all the lives we can save,” he said.

Carew returned to the suite where he watched the game from, savoring the rest of the evening with friends and family, including his longtime teammate and good buddy Tony Oliva. He left the stadium with only one regret: The Twins lost, 3-0.

Heart of 29 game group shot

Brian Dozier (left), Byron Buxton (middle) and Eduardo Escobar (seated) in their Heart of 29 jerseys. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins.