Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers

When Carlos Carrasco first arrived in the United States as an exciting young pitching prospect, he spoke no English and struggled to communicate with his teammates. Now he’s an inspiration not just to his team, but to the huge numbers of people who he has supported and inspired through both his philanthropic efforts and his own remarkable battles against injury and adversity. 

Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers

Coach Mom

Carlos was born in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto in 1987. His father, Luis, was a factory worker who was often called away by work for weeks at a time, leaving Carlos with Maria, his mother. Maria was an enthusiastic softball player and wanted her young son to participate in baseball, so at the age of four she took young Carlos to the local ballfield. As he later recounted, his first encounter with the sport was not a happy one: “When we arrived, there were so many people. I was so little. I was so scared… So I just started bawling. ‘Please, take me home!’ I cried, looking up at her. ‘I don’t want to play!’ I wouldn’t even leave her side to join the other kids who were starting to run around and play catch. She bent down and wiped away my tears. And that was it. We went home. No baseball.”

Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers

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When Carlos Carrasco first arrived in the United States as an exciting young pitching prospect, he spoke no English and struggled to communicate with his teammates. Now he’s an inspiration not just to his team, but to the huge numbers of people who he has supported and inspired through both his philanthropic efforts and his own remarkable battles against injury and adversity. 

Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers

Coach Mom

Carlos was born in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto in 1987. His father, Luis, was a factory worker who was often called away by work for weeks at a time, leaving Carlos with Maria, his mother. Maria was an enthusiastic softball player and wanted her young son to participate in baseball, so at the age of four she took young Carlos to the local ballfield. As he later recounted, his first encounter with the sport was not a happy one: “When we arrived, there were so many people. I was so little. I was so scared… So I just started bawling. ‘Please, take me home!’ I cried, looking up at her. ‘I don’t want to play!’ I wouldn’t even leave her side to join the other kids who were starting to run around and play catch. She bent down and wiped away my tears. And that was it. We went home. No baseball.”

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A couple of days later, Carlos discovered his mother crying in the kitchen. He asked why she was sad, and she replied “I just really wanted you to play baseball, and to love the game.” Carlos gave the sport a second chance and this time he did come to love the game with the continued support of Maria, who became her talented son’s coach and taught the future star how to pitch, catch, and swing. Perhaps most importantly, she kept Carlos focused on taking the sport seriously; on one occasion she caught his group playing with a tennis ball and furiously berated them, saying “the ball you’re using, it doesn’t have the same weight as a baseball, you’re going to get hurt if you don’t use the real thing.” 

Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers
Carlos in Barquisimeto

People soon started to notice Carlos’s talent. One of them was a baseball scout who was a friend of Luis, and took the young star under his wing at just 10 years of age. By this point young Carlos was obsessed with baseball, to the point where he dealt with an injury to his right shoulder by simply learning how to throw left-handed. He moved into the scout’s home, and although it was only 10 minutes from his parents’ house the new regime kept Carlos so busy he’d only have time to visit his family at weekends, but the hard work paid off. He had his first tryout with MLB scouts aged 13, and they were impressed by his developing fastball. Two years later, he signed a major league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Domino’s best customer

Carlos stepped off his first ever plane flight and landed in the US with no idea what to expect, and speaking no English. There were new challenges facing him that he was not prepared for, and had not been coached on. As he later wrote,  “the baseball stuff was the easiest part of it all. Baseball I knew how to do — the running, the throwing, the competing. All of that, I could do.” Having a consistent 93mph fastball was not going to help him in a strange new country, and for the first week at the Phillies training facility he was unable to even speak to his family as he didn’t know how to get a calling card to phone home. He ate Domino’s Pizza every day for similar reasons; the local franchise valued his business so much that they ended up giving him free pizza for a month. His career was developing nicely, but Carlos was lonely in Philadelphia: “Aside from eating pizza and playing baseball, I didn’t do very much, though. For those first few years in the U.S., I didn’t really talk to many of my teammates. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how.”

Carlos signed for the New York Mets in 2021

In 2009 the Phillies traded Carlos to Cleveland, and he made the decision to improve his English. “Language classes never worked for me because I had always been too busy with baseball. So I decided to learn English by talking and reading with the people around me.” Carlos began to come out of his shell, and even earned a nickname - Cookie - from his teammates, after being caught in the dressing room with an illicit plate of cookies and cream. He was also building a family, and his improving English skills allowed him to help his children with their homework, and do more in the local community.

The pitching philanthropist

It was one of his daughters who opened Carlos up to the importance of community. In 2014 his four year old, Camila, accompanied Carlos on a trip to visit cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. When they returned home, Camila grabbed a pair of scissors and started to chop off her hair, hoping to donate it to the patients she had met at the hospital. It triggered a response in Carlos, who later recounted how he felt a sudden need to match his children’s compassion, and provide them - and others - with a role model they could look up to for more than just athleticism. “Baseball is not forever. 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.”

Soon after, he and his wife Karelis formed the Carlos Carrasco Foundation and embarked on a remarkable program of philanthropic endeavors in the US, Venezuela, and further afield. At home, they regularly cook hundreds of meals for the homeless, distributed from the front porch of their home in Tampa. Back in Cleveland, Carlos would regularly read to young pupils at the Stepstone Academy’s “Carlos Carrasco Major League Reading Corner.” In Venezuela, he supports a refugee camp on the border with Colombia, where meals are distributed by members of his extended family. His Foundation has also helped to build schools in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and India. 

Keeping it strong

Throughout all this, he’s maintained a close connection to the patients at the Cleveland Clinic Patient’s Hospital, regularly visiting them to offer support and encouragement. “I went to the hospital to say, ‘If I can do it, they can do it too’ because I was out of baseball a little bit… So never give up and just keep it strong. Just to see them on a different day when I go to the hospital and see them smile — that (keeps) me more happy to do it. Pretty much I want to go there every day, but I had to go to the stadium to do my stuff. But I love to do that and just to bring a smile to the kids.”

Carlos Carrasco: the True Superhero of Pizza and Pitchers
Carlos visiting patients at the Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland in 2016

Carrasco had been “out of baseball a little bit” in 2012, when he missed the entire season due to surgery on his arm, but in 2019 he received news that brought him even closer to the patients at the Cleveland Clinic, when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a treatable form of cancer. Remarkably, Carrasco was only on Cleveland’s injury list for just three months and resumed pitching the same season, earning the league’s Comeback Player Of The Year Award for 2019. The same year he was voted as the winner of the Roberto Clemente award, given to the player judged to have made the most significant contribution to the community that season. Carrasco was delighted not just with the award, but with the association with one of his idols:  “When I get to read Clemente’s story, 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 those are the steps that I want to follow.” He’s continued to follow in Clemente’s illustrious footsteps ever since, marking himself out as an inspirational True Superhero who fully merits the comparisons with one of baseball’s greatest ever ambassadors.

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