THE MAN CALLED ‘COOKIE’
When Carlos Carrasco takes the mound today in St. Louis, in that brief moment when all is eerily still and Carrasco edges against the pitching rubber and peeks over his glove for the sign, before he throws the first pitch to Tommy Edman, I want you to realize what you are seeing: It’s a miracle.
The fact that Carrasco is alive, let alone pitching a Major League Baseball game, is remarkable. Since he arrived in the United States 14 years ago, the Venezuelan’s experience would best be described in his native tongue as “la desgracia.”
Carrasco pitched in a handful of MLB games between 2009-2010 before experiencing a “coming of age” in the early part of the 2011 season, but just as he began getting a taste success on the field, he hit his first speed bump. Soreness in his right elbow, led to Tommy John reconstruction surgery in the offseason.
Carrasco rebounded and began his ascension again – from the beginning. He was back in Cleveland’s starting rotation for the 2014 season. But he struggled. An uneven start in April led to an extended stint in the bullpen, where Carrasco mopped up games and worked on his mechanics. Carrasco eventually worked his way back to the starting rotation was dominant late in the season.
Still, something wasn’t right. Carrasco told team doctors he was experiencing irregular heartbeat; his heart would begin “racing” without warning. After the season, he underwent heart surgery for arrhythmia.
Carrasco appeared to finally get his balance. Over the course of the 2017-2018 seasons, he was one of the best pitchers in the game. In 64 starts, he recorded a 35-16 record and 3.33 ERA. But, again, Carrasco suffered setbacks. He fractured his hand after being hit with a line drive off and on a separate occasion took a batted ball off his elbow, leading to a deep bone bruise.
How much worse could it get?
On June 5, 2019, the team placed Carrasco on the 10-day injured list for an unidentified “blood condition.” The team offered no additional information and longtime Cleveland beat writer Paul Hoynes reported, “The Indians can’t comment on Carrasco’s condition because it is not a baseball-related issue. He is receiving treatment and it is not believed to be life threatening.”
Sounds ominous. It was.
On July 6, 2019, Carrasco revealed that he had been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
In a public statement, Carrasco said: “Some people when they hear they have cancer, normally they go, ‘Oh, my, God.’ My mind went there for one second. Then I said, ‘What’s happening here? I’m a strong guy. I believe in God. I believe in my family. I have the support of my teammates, so I stayed away from thinking about that. I never felt any negative thoughts.”
Five days after the news broke, the annual All-Star Game was held at, of all places, Progressive Field in Cleveland. As part of the annual tradition, after the fifth inning of the game, fans and players were asked to stand and show support for Stand Up to Cancer campaign by writing the name(s) of those in their lives who have been touched by cancer.
Cleveland reps Terry Francona, Brad Hand, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Shane Bieber had cards that read: “I stand up for: Cookie.”
Carrasco made his return to the mound less than two months after the diagnosis was revealed, pitching an inning in relief against the Tampa Bay Rays.
MLB recognized Carrasco for his courage and bravery after the season when he was named the 2019 AL Comeback Player of the Year. But, maybe more significant, was the day he received the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.
“Baseball is not forever,” Carrasco said. “I know at some point we stop playing baseball, but I want all those people and fans to remember me as a good human being and what I did on the field and off the field, too.”
Carrasco is cancer-free and pitching for the New York Mets this afternoon in St. Louis. Win or lose, doesn’t matter. Carrasco has already won our hearts.