Harmon Killebrew's lasting impact felt at ceremony honoring his legacy
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MINNEAPOLIS - Harmon Killebrew's final send-off was a touching and fitting tribute to a man who became a legend to people around the world.
Thousands of fans, baseball dignitaries, Twins legends and family and friends of Killebrew's, turned out at Target Field Thursday night to honor the renowned slugger, who passed away May 17 of esophageal cancer at the age of 74.
On a cloudless spring night appropriate to the night's festivities, Killebrew's Hall of Fame plaque hung from a podium in the middle of the infield, with his iconic jersey number, made up of flowers, standing on either side
Among various video and musical tributes, Rod Carew, Jim Kaat, Michael Cuddyer, Paul Molitor, Justin Morneau, Killebrew's wife Nita and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig took turns sharing stories and memories of "the Killer."
"The first thing Harmon would say is 'Wow. All this for me?" said Nita Killebrew, who brought tears to the eyes of the crowd with her heartfelt speech.
The lasting and indelible impact Killebrew left on the game of baseball could be felt throughout the ceremony.
"He is a great lesson for future generations of baseball players," Selig said. "That's the way you're supposed to carry yourself. That is the way you're supposed to act."
Rod Carew had to fight through emotion while telling the story of his last meeting with the man he called "Charlie." Carew was at Killebrew's bedside before he passed. When Carew stood to leave, Killebrew had a final message for his friend and teammate:
"He sat up in bed and said 'I love you Junior.' And I said 'Charlie, I will always love you too," Carew said.
Jim Thome stood at the highest seat in the upper-deck bleachers in center field 520 feet from home plate, holding up "the Killer's" jersey, in a goose bump-inducing nod to Killebrew's Twins record-breaking homerun of the same distance at Metropolitan Stadium on June 3, 1967. Thome became close friends with the Twins' legend last season as he chased Killebrew's mark of 573 career homeruns.
Among the baseball legends in attendance was fellow Hall of Famer and all-time homerun leader Hank Aaron, who made the trip to Minneapolis to pay his respects to his long-time friend. The duo formed a lasting bond during trips to teach baseball to children in Japan and renewed their friendship each summer at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York.
"I don't know anybody, especially a baseball player, that transcended the ability from what they did on the field to what they did off the field," Aaron said. "He was truly a magnificent person."
The Twins will continue to honor Killebrew throughout the season. A black band adorns his retired number in left field, while his meticulously penned signature graces the wall just right of center field.
Quotes of note
"No matter how many players pass through, there will only be one face of this organization and that is Harmon Killebrew."
-- Rod Carew, Twins and Baseball Hall of Fame member
"He could relate to everybody no matter who they were, no matter what color their skin was or where they were from. He could relate and talk to you as human being."
-- Hall of Famer Hank Aaron
"There were two players in baseball that you would stop and say 'wow': Mickey Mantle and Harmon."
-- Jim Kaat, Killebrew's Senators/Twins teammate of 14 years
"His soul is at peace in that big ballpark in the sky."
-- Killebrew's wife, Nita
"Harmon actually liked my autograph. Let's get that out of the way."
-- Paul Molitor, former Twins player and Hall of Famer