First I want to thank FSN for broadcasting the whole Harmon Killebrew Tribute from Target Field last night. I watched nearly the whole thing, from the LRT train ride from the Mall of America, to the Metrodome, to Target Field. It was really interesting to hear the on-train interviews with such people as Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, and Cam Killebrew, mixed in with the now-familiar train noises and station announcements over the intercom.
I was disappointed that I was not able to make the trip up to Minneapolis for that beautiful evening, but I had a great seat in my recliner in the living room, as I do for the baseball games, too. I was even a little surprised by what I considered to be a small crowd. It was obviously thousands of people, but I expected a packed stadium. Instead, I read a short while ago that it was about 4000 people, mostly sitting in the area between first base and third base. I also read that the relatively small crowd was appropriate, since the Twins and Harmon often played in front of such crowds back in the 60s and early 70s.
The evening was a beautiful tribute to a great ballplayer and a wonderful man. There were his teammates from his playing days, including men like Tony Oliva, Frank Quilici, Mudcat Grant, Frank Kostro, Rick Reese, Dick Stigman, and Julio Becquer. There was Hall-of-Famer and former home run king Hank Aaron, other Hall-of-Famers like Rod Carew, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield, and the Twins own new Hall of Fame inductee this summer, Bert Blyleven. There were current Twins players like Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Jim Thome. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was there as well, as were many of Harmon’s own family including his wife Nita and their children.
It was a touching tribute to hear men who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame today, talk about Harmon Killebrew as their boyhood hero. He was mine, too.
It’s been a strange time over the past couple weeks, since we first heard the announcement that Killer was entering hospice care, and then his passing a few days later. It seemed like Harmon would always be there. He was like a rock. To his fans, he was solid; he just wouldn’t be moved. He was indestructible. But there was a disease, esophageal cancer, that he couldn’t beat, and in the end it took him from us.
I’m not a stranger to the emptiness that death brings. It’s really strange when someone close to you dies, because for several days afterwards you still feel like they’re close, that they could come walking out of the next room any minute. That feeling slowly fades as the days pass. It’s the same with Harmon; even though I wasn’t close with him, like all of his fans, he was a friend. It’s still hard to imagine that he’s gone. It’s hard to believe that he’ll never again come to our town as part of the Twins Winter Caravan and regale us with stories from back when he was playing. It’s hard to believe that he’ll never again come to our little local baseball stadium and throw out the first pitch of the season. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be signing any more autographs. What we have is all that there will ever be.
The tribute at Target Field last night was a time of closure for many of us. We miss him; we always will. But now we can let him go. As was said about Abraham Lincoln, we can now say about Harmon Killebrew: now he belongs to the ages.
Bye, Harmon. We’ll see you again some day.