Carlos Carrasco didn’t let cancer stop him from helping others. It inspired him to do more.
The Cleveland Indians’ pitcher, who was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia in May, has won the 2019 Roberto Clemente Award. It is given annually by Major League Baseball to recognize a player’s high character, community involvement and positive contributions.
Despite being sick and sidelined for months during this season, Carrasco’s positive attitude never wavered and his efforts never slowed. The 32-year-old frequently visited children fighting the disease at area hospitals while receiving medical treatment for his own illness.
“It’s something that I love to do, helping a lot of kids and families,” said Carrasco, a father of five.
Each of baseball’s 30 teams submitted a nominee for the Clemente Award. Carrasco was chosen by a panel that included Commissioner Rob Manfred, Clemente’s widow, Vera, and media members.
Carrasco was presented with the award by Manfred on Friday night before Game 3 of the World Series in Washington. On Saturday, he’ll be on the field during Game 4 to participate in baseball’s “Stand Up To Cancer” campaign, something he did during a tribute during July’s All-Star Game in Cleveland.
Carrasco is the third Indians player to win the award, joining Hall of Famer Jim Thome (2002) and Andre Thornton (1979).
MLB has honored players for their philanthropic efforts since 1971. The award is named for the 15-time All-Star killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Carrasco said he was inspired by Clemente’s legacy.
“When I get to read his story,” Carrasco said. “I say, ‘I just want to be like him,’ because that’s the way that I love to help the community and that’s the way that I am and that’s the steps that I want to follow.”
In the past year, Carrasco and his wife, Karry, have provided box lunches to the homeless in Tampa, Florida. They’ve given scholarships to single mothers and traveled to Africa, distributing shoes, shirts and backpacks to children.
Carrasco’s most passionate endeavor, however, has been helping those in his native Venezuela. He’s donated toys at Christmas and money for food and medical supplies to a country in a political crisis that has forced millions to flee.
But it was in Cleveland where the popular right-hander had an equally profound impact.
Carrasco, who was traded to the Indians from Philadelphia in 2009, began visiting hospitals in 2014. After one visit, he said one of his daughters cut off some hair and told him, “just give it to the kids.”
It moved Carrasco to want to help in any way he could.
“My wife was looking at me and we almost started crying,” he said. “Everything started from there.”
Carrasco didn’t expect that one day he would be fighting cancer just like those kids. He had felt fatigued for months before tests revealed he had chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
He was forced to leave baseball to face a perhaps life-threatening affliction. During his battle, Carrasco has been lifted by his teammates and has drawn strength from his hospital visits.
“I told them, all those kids and teenagers and families there, if I can do it, they can do it, too,” he said. “So never give up and just keep it strong.”
Carrasco was determined to pitch again this season, and he returned after more than three months away in relief on Sept. 3 in Tampa, where he has an offseason home. Carrasco said he’s feeling “great” and has been running and throwing with the goal of being ready for spring training.
And while he hopes to help the Indians, Carrasco wants to leave a legacy outside the foul lines.
“The way that I want the people to remember me is like a great human being, great person, as a great player, too,” he said. “That is more important. Baseball is not forever.”
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