Thousands turn out to remember Killebrew
Selig, former and current players honor late slugger at Target
MINNEAPOLIS -- Several Hall of Famers, many current and former Major League players and executives, including Commissioner Bud Selig, joined an estimated 4,000 fans on Thursday night to honor the late Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew in a beautiful and touching public memorial at Target Field.
The ceremony, which was emceed by Twins broadcasters John Gordon and Dick Bremer and lasted more than two hours, celebrated the life of the famed slugger who passed away on May 17 at the age of 74 after a bout with esophageal cancer.
It featured poignant speeches from Selig, Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Rod Carew, current and former Twins stars such as Jim Kaat, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau and Killebrew's wife, Nita.
"Harmon had a lasting impact on my life just as he did for the millions of fans who watched him play through his Hall of Fame career, and especially for those who knew him as a person," Selig said at the podium near second base that featured Killebrew's Hall of Fame plaque. "He represented baseball the way it should be and set an example for future generations of Major League Baseball players."
Among the noted attendees at the tribute to Killebrew -- who hit 573 homers over 22 seasons -- were Twins owner Jim Pohlad, general manager Bill Smith, president Dave St. Peter and 45 members of Killebrew's family.
Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and new Cooperstown electee Bert Byleven were also present and were joined by a slew of Killebrew's former teammates and friends: Tony Oliva, Frank Quilici, Mudcat Grant, Frank Kostro, Rick Reese, Dick Stigman, Jim Nettles, Julio Becquer, John Costino and Juan Berenguer.
"I don't know anybody, especially a baseball player, who transcended the ability from what they did on the field to what they did off the field," Aaron told reporters before the memorial. "He was truly a magnificent person. 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 a human being."
Even those who played after Killebrew's final season in 1975 paid their respects, including Kent Hrbek, Jack Morris, Dan Gladden, Al Newman, Ron Coomer, Corey Koskie, Tim Laudner, Matt Tolbert, Jim Thome, Molitor, Cuddyer and Morneau.
"I'm honored to have been able to call him a friend and a mentor," Morneau said in a speech. "We all know his Hall of Fame stats that will likely never be reached by anyone in this organization. But he was a class act and set a higher bar off [the field]."
Many former Twins players rode to the ballpark on a specially named No. 3 Hiawatha light-rail train -- featuring graphics honoring Killebrew -- from the Mall of America to Target Field while picking up additional Twins alumni at the Metrodome.
They all entered via Gate 3 at Target Field as Killebrew's No. 3 was shown prominently at the ballpark -- etched in the dirt near second base and two special flower decorations bearing No. 3 in red roses on both sides of the podium.
"I'm honored to have been able to call him a friend and a mentor. We all know his Hall of Fame stats that will likely never be reached by anyone in this organization. But he was a class act and set a higher bar off [the field]."
|-- Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, on Harmon Killebrew|
The Twins also demonstrated where Killebrew's historic 520-foot homer at the old Metropolitan Stadium would have landed at Target Field, as Thome sat in the last row of Section 334 in the upper deck of left-center field while holding up Killebrew's No. 3 jersey.
There was also plenty of musical tributes during the memorial, including a rendition of "What a Wonderful World" sung by Grant, who played with Killebrew for all or part of four seasons. The Minnesota Chorale also performed, and Jeff Arundel sang the Harmon Killebrew song.
Several video tributes were also aired, showing clips of Killebrew's mammoth homers, his Hall of Fame speech, his appearance on David Letterman and countless other interviews with the slugger over the years.
There was also a special video tribute featuring speeches from the likes of Joe Mauer, former Twin Torii Hunter, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, Gladden and Morris.
"He was a boyhood hero of mine, but he's more my hero because of how I came to know him," Morris said. "To me, he's more of a Hall of Fame person than a baseball player."
It was a statement echoed by those who spoke at the podium at the ceremony, including Carew, who had a tough time controlling his emotions when recalling giving Killebrew a final hug when he visited him shortly before he died in Arizona.
"No matter how many players pass through the Twins' organization there will only be one face of this organization, and that's Harmon Killebrew," Carew said.
But perhaps the most moving speech of the night came from Killebrew's wife, who was able to keep her composure and deliver a beautiful tribute to her late husband.
"Harmon's body is buried in his hometown of Payette, Idaho, his soul is up in the ballpark of heaven, but his heart will always be here in Minnesota," Nita said.
It was simply a fitting farewell to the man they called "Killer," who showed nothing but humility and grace off the field.
"Harmon was as tough and feared a competitor on the field as the game will ever know," Selig said. "His power was legendary and his home runs were majestic. In this region of the country, he was the face of baseball. And the game could not have been blessed with a better ambassador."