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Rod Carew has spent the last few years traveling around the world as an ambassador for Major League Baseball. He's assisted at baseball clinics in various countries, trying to spread the word that baseball is no longer just America's pastime.
One country that he had yet to visit on those trips was his home country -- Panama.
That changed this week when Carew returned for a four-day trip, which included baseball clinics in the country's capital and various events to honor the Hall of Fame ballplayer.
The trip came about after Panama's vice president, Samuel Lewis, heard about one of Carew's recent baseball clinics in Nicaragua. Lewis was interested in bringing Carew, 63, back to his native country for a similar event.
With help from the Panamanian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, who contacted the MLB office there, a four-day set of clinics was scheduled, and Carew arrived in Panama on Monday night for the start of his visit.
"It's been very special," Carew said Thursday from his hotel in Panama City. "I don't get the opportunity to come home as much as I would like. They made a big run to get me to come back and do the clinics here, and it's been a very worthwhile trip."
Carew, who spent 19 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1967-85, said that it was Commissioner Bud Selig who first contacted him a few years ago about getting involved in MLB's effort to make baseball more of a global game. Since then, Carew has traveled to Australia, Italy, and Nicaragua to host clinics. Carew said that he considers it an honor to be part of baseball's initiative.
"I've been in some of these countries the last two to three years now, and I've seen some of the same kids and watched their development," Carew said. "We've got kids now signing in baseball who are from Lithuania, Belgium, France, London, the Netherlands, South Africa -- just all over the world. It's just a tremendous thing that's happening to baseball. It's not just an American game, it's starting to become such an international game."
Not unlike his previous trips to other countries, Carew has hosted a clinic each day with other Major League coaches for kids between the ages of 14-18 at Panama's national baseball stadium, which was renamed Rod Carew Stadium. But there is no denying that this trip to Panama has been different.
In the small country of Panama, population 3.3 million, Carew is still very much revered and beloved by his fellow countrymen. Carew believes that it's a result of his insistence on remaining a Panamanian citizen and never seeking dual citizenship in the U.S., where he spends the majority of his time.
"I've always wanted the kids to follow in my footsteps, and there's no better way than to maintain my citizenship in Panama as a positive for them," said Carew, who was joined on the trip by his wife, Ronda.
And during this return trip, Panama and its people have showed the Hall of Famer what his devotion to the country has meant to them -- by giving him a grand "welcome home party."
It's included the chance for Carew to revisit some of the revered places in his country. He was invited by President Martin Torrijos, whom Carew knew as a child, to a lunch at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday. At the event he was honored with the "Brigadier General Omar Torrijos Herrera," one of Panama's highest honors. Among those attending the event were other great Panamanian athletes, including boxer Roberto Duran, former Major Leaguer Olmedo Saenz and long jumper Irving Saladino, who won Panama's first gold medal this summer in Beijing.
On Wednesday, Carew was given a diplomatic passport from Panama as a sports ambassador and received a tour of the Panama Canal that's normally given only to foreign dignitaries or presidents.
For the Twins, who have watched Carew continue to be a great ambassador of the game to their fans throughout Twins Territory, the tribute to one of their legends certainly seems fitting.
"Rod is a very thoughtful person, and it's not surprising in the least for us to see the reception that he's getting in his home country of Panama," said Kevin Smith, the Twins' executive director of public affairs. "We feel extremely lucky and proud to have Rod be the great ambassador that he is for our organization."
The week was filled with memorable events for Carew, and it was capped off by a special ceremony on Friday -- his final day of the trip.
Carew was honored once again when he took a train ride to his hometown of Gatun in the Colon Province, which is about an hour from the capital city on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country. At the conclusion of the ride, a ceremony was held and the train was renamed after him.
The train holds special meaning for Carew. Back in 1945, Carew's pregnant mother was riding the train from Gatun to Panama City for a doctor's visit when she went into labor. A physician by the name of Dr. Rodney Cline was on the train and helped deliver the future ballplayer, who was thereby named Rodney Cline Carew.
Although Carew has taken that same train many times when he's gone back home, before this ride, he said he expected this particular ride would be a little more meaningful.
"It's going to bring back a lot of memories, passing all the places where I grew up," Carew said. "To have the train that I was born on named after me is just another tremendous honor."
His current trip may have ended, but Carew's work of promoting baseball in Panama likely isn't over. Although no formal agreements have been put in place, Carew was asked to help Team Panama for the second World Baseball Classic, which will take place next March. Carew said that he hopes to find time in his schedule to do just that.
"I would like to see what the schedule is like and when I could help them -- whether it's while they are here in Panama or while they are in the States," Carew said. "I'd like to see if I can arrange my schedule to go into camp and give some of my expertise and try to help them out in some way."
For Carew, it's just another way that he hopes to keep Panama close to his heart.
"It's always special to be here, because they still remember who I am and that I am part of them," Carew said.