Baseball legends, leading cancer researchers and local luminaries took the field for the 2014 Hutch Award Luncheon, held Thursday at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
The event, set up on left field , drew nearly 1,000 community members for a luncheon and silent auction to honor this year’s winner and support Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which hosts the annual fundraising event.
This year’s recipient of the prestigious Hutch Award was outfielder and designated hitter Raúl Ibañez, a three-time Seattle Mariner who recently signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, formerly of the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels, was keynote speaker.
“This is a tremendous honor and I’m truly humbled just being on the list with the great players and great humanitarians who’ve won this,” Ibañez said upon receiving the award. “In no way, shape or form do I consider myself worthy of being on that list, but it’s greatly appreciated.”
The Hutch Award is presented annually to a MLB player who exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of the late Fred Hutchinson, the beloved MLB player and manager who died of lung cancer at the age of 45.
Throughout his baseball career, Ibañez has been a consistent champion of many charitable and community organizations, helping to raise awareness and funds to fight disease, domestic violence, homelessness, child abuse and illiteracy, among other causes.
‘Giving back is important’
In his acceptance speech, Ibanez stressed the importance of giving back to the community and of being a good role model, thanking former teammates John Olerod, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner, Jamie Moyer and others for helping him become a better player, on and off the field.
“It’s really the greatest award I could receive,” he said. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it; the process is as important as how you perform. We’re all role models, we’ve been given this pedestal by the good lord and to be able to give back is extremely important.”
The award, the sculpture Cerulean Venetian with Sun Yellow Coils, created by artist Dale Chihuly, was presented by Dr. Larry Corey, president and director of Fred Hutch. Corey thanked the audience for their support, adding that community support for the organization was “really critical at this time.”
“There’s no sugar coating,” he said. “Funding for medical research at a federal level is decreasing and community events like this and the Obliteride are really important for the Hutch. Miracles come from the lab and the Hutch has created miracles – bone marrow transplantation, cord blood transplantation, immunotherapy, tumor paint. We really are at the dawn of transforming the way we think about cancer.”
‘The stuff of science fiction’
Ibañez and Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew were able to meet some of the people creating those miracles during a stop at the Hutch Wednesday night. The two baseball legends talked with researchers working on breakthroughs in cord blood transplant, “gene surgery” and therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, the disease that took Carew’s youngest daughter, Michelle, in 1996.
“Visiting Fred Hutch was a really eye-opening experience for me,” said Ibañez. “Hearing about the things they’re doing, like being able to fix a strand of DNA that’s mutated. For me, that’s the stuff of science fiction. And yet they’re doing it right here in our city, right down the street. It’s an extraordinary cancer research center.”
Ibañez was so excited about the work being done at the Hutch, he took a moment to invite the entire audience to come check it out.
“They’re amazing people, brilliant minds, and they’re all pulling in the same direction like a championship caliber team,” he said.
‘The greatest gift’
Carew said Ibañez was “great choice” for this year’s Hutch Award.
He then went on to tell the story of his youngest daughter Michelle, who died at the age of 18 after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Due to her complicated ethnic background (Carew is of Panamanian and West Indian descent and her mother is of Russian descent), a bone marrow donor could not be found.
Since her death, Carew has made it his mission to raise awareness and funds for blood cancer research.
“The greatest gift we can give to anyone is the gift of life,” he said. “So when you open your hearts – and you open your pocketbooks – that’s the gift you’re giving. You’re helping a lot of young people who need to live and make a life for themselves.”
Carew then asked all the doctors and researchers in the audience to stand.
“People talk about us as being heroes – baseball players and hockey players,” he said. “But these doctors, these researchers, they are the heroes. They’re the ones who are changing the lives of so many of us.”
'It's the right thing to do'
Each year, major league teams submit nominations and the Hutch Award winner is selected via a vote by past recipients. Mickey Mantle received the inaugural award in 1965; other recipients include Baseball Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey, Lou Brock, George Brett and Johnny Bench. Last year’s Hutch Award winner was San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito.
During his 18-year career, Ibañez spent a total of 11 years with the Mariners, three years with both the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies and one year with the New York Yankees. Last year, while playing for the Mariners, the 41-year-old athlete hit 29 home runs (including the 300th of his career), tying him with Ted Williams for most home runs in a season by a player 41 or older.
“I’ve been blessed with the ability to play Major League Baseball and a lot of the time you can use your place in society for the greater good, to bring awareness to some serious causes, to help people afflicted with serious diseases,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Ibañez’ longstanding work as volunteer chair for the annual Cystic Fibrosis Mariners Care Golf Tournament has helped raise a total of $1,176,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He’s also one of only a handful of professional athletes to help bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence with a series of PSAs – in both English and Spanish -- produced for the “Refuse to Abuse” campaign with Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Ibañez also supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s, Esperanza, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, Volunteers of America, Teammates For Kids Foundation, Olive Crest, Treehouse, Canine Companions For Independence, Covenant House Pennsylvania and Project HOME.
“I’m blessed to be in this situation, to be able to make an impact on peoples’ lives,” he said of his many years of philanthropic work. “If you’re not doing that then I think you’ve missed the boat, really.”
Reach writer Diane Mapes at email@example.com.