Fred Hutchinson: from death to life

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Fred Hutchinson will always have a  place in history at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

Fred Hutchinson.

The name and face on the faded, scuffed baseball card of my youth still evokes both sweet memory and sorrow.

In the late summer of 1964, I was 9 years old. One evening, I was pacing around the backyard of our Bellevue home waiting for my dad to get down in his catcher’s crouch so I could hurry up and pitch. After all, I had Willie Mays coming up to bat and I had to strike him out.

Dad and I talked about proper pitching mechanics, what was for dinner and which team might go on to win the World Series. He particularly wanted the Cincinnati Reds.

Between wild throws, Dad mentioned that Reds manager Fred Hutchinson was sick with cancer — and had to leave the team.

But the Reds were now on fire, I reminded him, which meant they would go on and win it all, and their manager would get better.

That’s what you believe when you’re 9 years old, right? You believe everything’s going to turn out all right. I did, because I looked up to my mom and dad, the latter of whom at the time was a young resident at Swedish Hospital. Of course he knew everything, including which turn to take after coming over the floating bridge that would take us to watch the Seattle Rainiers play baseball.

One evening he threw me a curve by driving past Sick’s Stadium. A few minutes later we pulled up in the driveway of a very nice home overlooking Lake Washington.

A distinguished man in a suit welcomed us with a wave and a smile.

“Son, this is Dr. Bill Hutchinson.”

His grip swallowed up my Little League-sized hand. He gave us two tickets and said, “Enjoy the game.”

That evening, we sat in Dr. Hutchinson’s box seats next to the Rainiers’ dugout. I learned that Dad worked alongside this man who happened to be the brother of Fred Hutchinson, the Cincinnati manager.

That fall the Reds’ pennant hopes dried up like falling leaves. One afternoon in 1964, as Dad was cleaning up the garden, I told him the news I’d just heard on the radio.

Fred Hutchinson had died.

My father stood there and hung his head until it rested in his hands on top of his shovel. And he began to cry.

Some 40 years later, I was driving him on a vacation near Port Angeles. At one point he got real quiet, and then, reflecting on his days at Swedish, he let out the fact that Dr. Hutchinson asked him to assist in surgery when he operated on Fred.

My father’s sudden sorrow that day in the backyard had come full circle, and he freely talked about his admiration for Bill Hutchinson.

“The man was a doer,” Dad said. “He had a vision to pay tribute to his brother, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way.”

In founding the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. William Hutchinson laid a cornerstone of hope for every patient and family facing this terrible disease.

I’m sure if he were alive today, he would be down at Safeco Field on Wednesday for the presentation of the Hutch Award “that recognizes the MLB player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of the legendary leader, Fred Hutchinson.”

In my own field of dreams, Bill Hutchinson is welcomed to the podium. Against the backdrop of blue sky and applause, both he and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright receive the 51st annual Hutch Award.

In his true fighting spirit, Dr. Hutchinson accepts the honor on behalf of his brother, whose losing battle against cancer still counts as a victory over a sickening foe future generations should never have to face.

Mark Cutshall is a writer and lives in Shoreline. His father, Dr. Brad Cutshall, enjoyed a 31-year medical career that culminated with him and his wife, Nancy, serving at Maua Methodist Hospital in northern Kenya.

Featured in The Seattle Times, January 25, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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