WOSTER: Killebrew had big bat, bigger heartEveryone in this part of the country has a Harmon Killebrew story, and his recent death gave many people a chance to share their favorite tale.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Everyone in this part of the country has a Harmon Killebrew story, and his recent death gave many people a chance to share their favorite tale.
When I mentioned the former Minnesota Twins baseball player at the office the day after he died, a co-worker looked mildly confused.
“You know who Harmon Killebrew is, don’t you?” I asked.
“Some baseball player,” she said, a bit uncertainly, giving me the opening I needed to tell my Killebrew story.
I have never liked the Twins; I should say that up front. I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan first, and I followed avidly the exploits of the old Yankees — Mantle, Berra, Skowron, Maris and Whitey Ford, and I dearly loved to listen to the radio when Bob Gibson was pitching for the Cardinals. Sometime in the middle 1950s, a young slugger named Henry Aaron caught my eye, and I moved my allegiance to the Milwaukee Braves just in time to follow them to the World Series championship in 1957.
Save for the brief flirtation with the Yankees, I’ve always been a National League fan, so when the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis and changed their name, it meant little to me. They were in the American League, and my team was in Milwaukee in the National League.
In college, I hung out with a bunch of kids from small towns in Minnesota. They were nuts about the Twins, and they used to jaw at me for not being a fan, too. A person should support their local professional team, they said. I said I was doing that before Minneapolis had a team. The arguments sometimes were quite heated, especially when I cheered for Koufax, Drysdale and the National League Dodgers in the 1965 series.
What I’m telling you is, I have never followed the Twins closely. I know the names of some of their players, and I knew Harmon Killebrew was a powerful, powerful slugger. That’s about it.
In the late 1960s, while I worked for the Sioux Falls newspaper, Killebrew came to town. Maybe it was a Twins’ tour or maybe he was there on his own for a speaking engagement. I can’t remember that part. I was either a photographer at the paper or a writer in the sports department at the time. Either way, I knew a bit about a camera, and I was assigned to cover Killebrew when he visited a local program for children with severe disabilities.
That’s a simple enough assignment for a photographer. You trail along with the entourage, get a couple of printable images of the celebrity and head back to the barn.
Killebrew spent a long afternoon touring the place. He stopped and talked with every child he encountered, and he asked questions of the officials leading the tour and of the staff he met along the way. He really was into the kids. I don’t know how many of them had a clue who he was, but they were clearly captivated by the big guy.
It wasn’t just a stop on the schedule. Although it was suggested a time or two that the group really needed to be moving along, he acted as if he had all day to spend with those kids.
When the tour was done, when he was outside and the door had closed behind him, he cried.
He was quiet, his eyes were wet, he had tears on his cheeks, and he didn’t seem to care if anyone around him knew how much the visit had affected him. After a few moments, he squared his shoulders and asked what was next on the schedule.
I’m still a National League guy, but I have been a Harmon Killebrew fan ever since that day.