Words by Jessica Rodriguez

Adversity can change people for the better or the worse. But a life threatening illness can knock people out for good. When faced with a leukemia diagnosis, Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco, pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, was fueled to live louder and stronger than ever. 

Challenges are nothing new for the 32-year-old Venezuelan-American baseball player aka the comeback kid. Carrasco started his career with the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system in 2003. In 2009 he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Although he had a promising future it took time for him to find his stride. Health issues soon emerged in the form of a bad elbow that required Tommy John surgery in 2011. Surgery for a heart murmur followed in 2014. In between there was a broken metacarpal bone, a bruised jaw (thanks to a ball to the face), and more time away from the field than Cookie would have liked.

Carrasco soldiered on through it all. The father of five even had a historical game during the 2017 season. He threw an “immaculate inning” (striking out all three batters in a single inning) against the Detroit Tigers. He’s only the second player in the team’s history to accomplish this feat.

Hints of a new crisis arose in June 2019. Carrasco was put on the disabled list for a “blood condition.” A month later he shared on Cleveland’s website that he had been diagnosed with Chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer that affects blood and bone marrow. His prior heart condition put doctors on alert to his health. “I never thought I could have something like this because I play baseball and I’m super healthy. But you never know what’s going on inside your body,” he said in a video posted to the team’s Twitter feed. Suddenly his months of feeling sluggish and rundown made sense. Despite this he planned to return to the game as soon as his doctors gave him the green light. 

Carlos_Carrasco

Rather than wallow in his condition, he did the opposite. He attacked his treatment with positivity and determination. “I just convinced myself that I was going to beat this disease, and then … I did everything in my power to focus on that goal. I may have cancer but cancer doesn’t have me,” Carrasco wrote in a piece about his experience for The Players Tribune. Carrasco also opted to use his time away from the dugout to give back. During his three months of treatment he regularly visited children battling leukemia at the Cleveland Children’s Hospital.

The 6’4” right hander with a baby face and penchant for milk and cookies (enter his nickname) has been devoted to charity work since he began his career. He and his family have provided funds, supplies and time to people and organizations across the U.S., Africa, and his home country of Venezuela. This year he was also honored for his philanthropic efforts when he won the Roberto Clemente Award, given to MLB players who have a positive impact off the field. 

He credits the support of his wife Karelis, his family, friends, team  and fans for providing the fortitude to contend with the disease. He has even found a silver lining to his experience. “In some ways I’m grateful for my leukemia because of the opportunity it’s given me to become a role model and symbol for those who might really need some support and inspiration,” he said during an interview with The Associated Press.

By tackling the disease and life head-on Carrasco made himself even more beloved across the world. Aside from many well wishers Carrasco’s courage  was recognized when he was named the 2019 American League Comeback Player of 2019. He was also awarded the “Good Guy Award” by the Cleveland chapter of the National Baseball Writers Association of America. 

True to form, Carrasco met his goal and returned to the field just three months after being diagnosed. On September 1st the right-hander appeared as a relief pitcher when the Indians faced the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida. As he jogged to the mound the crowd at Progressive Field gave him a standing ovation and roared with appreciation and awe. A well deserved bravo for the comeback kid. 

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