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The View From Pluto: Cancer Diagnosis Inspired Clemente Winner Carrasco to Give Back More

a photo of Carlos Carrasco
Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco was named the 2019 Roberto Clemente Award winner

Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco is being honored for his work off the field. The fan-favorite who’s been with the team for 10 seasons has been named baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award winner. WKSU's sports commentator Terry Pluto said Carrasco’s cancer diagnosis inspired him to do more.

The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually by Major League Baseball to recognize a player's high character, community involvement and positive contributions. It was named for Roberto Clemente in 1973. The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder died in a plane crash while delivering supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.

Carrasco received the award during the World Series this past week. "It goes to somebody who wants to put their signature on the right stuff," Pluto said. "Not just on autographs to get paid."

The 32-year-old Carrasco has been with the Indians since 2009 and has been one of the team's top pitchers despite battling injuries throughout his career. He's also done a lot of work off the field. He 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.

'It goes to somebody who wants to put their signature on the right stuff. Not just on autographs to get paid'

Helping at home
He's done a lot of work in his native Venezuela, donating  toys and money for food and medical supplies. 

But he's also made a big impact in Cleveland, where he and his wife began visiting hospitals in 2014. "One of his daughters was in the cancer ward with the kids, and the daughter found out that they make wigs out of people's hair," Pluto said. "And she wanted to cut her hair off to donate to the kids. So that fueled their interest in kids with cancer."

Battling cancer
Five years later, Carrasco found himself in his own battle against cancer. In May, he was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia. He spent several months away from baseball getting treatment, but still continued to help others. "They talk about ministering through your pain," Pluto said. "He found himself going to The Cleveland Clinic even more [to visit with kids]."

The Indians front office and teammates got behind Carrasco, whose nickname is Cookie. "I Stand For Cookie" t-shirts rolled out this past summer with a percentage of sales going to Cleveland Clinic Children's for pediatric cancer research.

'They talk about ministering through your pain. He found himself going to The Cleveland Clinic even more'

Getting back in the game
Meanwhile, Carrasco started throwing again, and he returned to the mound Sept. 3 as a relief pitcher. "His spirit is upbeat," Pluto said. "He's had ups and downs in his own career." Carrasco also fought back from Tommy John elbow surgery in 2013. 

And Carrasco loves playing in Cleveland. Last December he signed a $47 million, 4-year contract extension, giving him security.  "This way he's guaranteed and it keeps these things going which is almost as important to him as baseball."

Carrasco is the third Indians player to win the Roberto Clemente Award. Jim Thome won it in 2002 and Andre Thornton in 1979. 

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.