or One Final Home Run

I guess my greatest boyhood heroes have always been baseball players. Back in the fifties, when I was barely aware that there was baseball, there were still names that danced in my head, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth. I knew they were baseball players, and I was aware that those fellows were somehow pretty special. They did something really special; something called “hitting home runs”. (Of course, Babe Ruth was long dead by the time I was born, but the magic of his name still lingered for many more years.)

As I grew a little older, a couple of my brothers and I, along with a few other neighborhood kids, would walk up to an old empty lot, mark out a few bases and a pitchers spot (there was no actual mound), and pretend we were major league baseball players. At first, we’d fight over who got to be Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. But then, after ol’ Calvin Griffith decided to move his Washington Senators out here to Minnesota and call them the Twins, we fought over who would be Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, Jimmy Hall, Tony Oliva, Earl Battey, Bernie Allen and Rich Rollins.

My very first Twins game came on a hot summer day in 1964. I was eleven years old, in Webelos Scouts (a level between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts back then) and we got to go up as a Webelos den to see the Twins take on the White Sox at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. We sat out in the left field bleachers, which in those early days were wooden. Down in front of us, on the field, was a broad-shouldered young man I was all excited to see. It was none other than my hero, Harmon Killebrew, in his one and only season as the Twins regular left fielder.

After a few innings, as I watched the goings-on way over at the distant diamond, I heard a CRACK! and looked up into the sky to see a baseball flying out near us, and WHACK!, it hit the bleachers off to our left a little ways, a Twins home run! The next batter came up and once again I heard that beautiful sound, looked up, and here it came, landing once again just a little ways from where we were sitting. Now since that was almost fifty years ago I don’t remember the batting order, but I know those two, back-to-back home runs were hit by Harmon Killebrew and Bobby Allison, though now I can’t say for sure which player hit which home run.

Through the years I have run into my hero, Harmon Killebrew, occasionally, at autograph sessions and at the Twins Winter Caravan. I’ve gotten to shake his hand and tell him thanks for the great memories, and have gotten his standard autographed photograph. I’ve listened to him back when he had a job doing color analysis for the Twins broadcasting team, and my heart has been warmed to see him show up at Twins Spring Training Camp in recent years to help coach and give advice to the young players and new stars. Over the years Harmon has gotten into the hearts of Twins fans everywhere for the class act he has always been, and his real caring he has always shown for the team and the fans. I’ll always remember him for being at Kirby Puckett’s bedside as Kirby lived out his final days.

In recent months we got the news that Harmon had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but Harmon didn’t give up. He continued to make as many public appearances as he could, putting on a brave face for the crowds. But it was a nasty diagnosis, and while everybody was hopeful that Harmon could do what he said he was going to do, that is, beat the cancer, it is now clear that this is one game Harmon isn’t going to win.

It was announced this morning that Harmon’s cancer has progressed to the place where his doctors have told him they can do no more for him, and Harmon is now entering hospice care in order to live out his final days in peace with Nita, the wife he has loved for so many years.

Harmon, when you get to that great ball field in the sky, go out there and hit a few more home runs for the Twins fans down here on earth. We’re rooting for you!