A kid doesn’t have that many heroes. So when one gets sick and acknowledges he will soon pass, it’s worth noting. Harmon Killebrew was ‘The Killer”. Not Jerry Lee Lewis, who was a piker in comparison.
When I was a little boy, one of my first memories of being awe struck by an athlete was when our family would travel from Fargo to Minneapolis to see the Minnesota Twins play baseball at Metropolitan Stadium. It was always an epic trip.
When you’re six years old, every trip is an odyssey. Metropolitan Stadium was in the then far south suburb of Bloomington where the Mall of America now stands. From the parking lot you could clearly see the airport. South St. Paul lay across the lowlands and river with nothing to interrupt your view.
We were there for a double header on one particular Saturday in the mid-sixties. Both games went into extra innings. One game was a 12-inning slugfest. The other was a 13-inning pitcher’s dual. Our beloved Twins won both games with bottom of the inning walk-off homeruns, before we called them that.
The last game went so late – well after midnight – that the governor had to be called to seek permission to continue to play into Sunday morning. Permission granted, many of us stayed, although my parents left us in the capable hands of friends who wanted to stay, while they headed to the same friend’s home in St. Paul for the night.
Bob Allison hit a homerun to win one game. I don’t remember which. Harmon Killebrew hit the other game winning shot. He had done this on so many occasions already – in our presence – personally or on the radio. He was, quite simply, a mythical character to a little kid from Fargo. For many years he sent baseballs rocketing out of major league ballparks across the country. He was so cool.
Years later he was in Fargo, at a tradeshow sponsored by the company my father worked for. My dad invited me down, knowing that I would probably be able to meet Harmon. Not sure why I never went, but I missed the opportunity to meet a childhood hero. Later I heard many people say what a great guy he was, taking time to visit with folks and sign autographs.
Now, hearing the news that he is losing his fight with cancer, I very much regret missing an opportunity to meet him. As I’ve gotten older, I understand that even mythical characters are just guys. No different than you and I. Just guys with different skills and opportunities that put them in a unique place and time that intersects our common experience.
Much will be recounted, written and recalled about The Killer in the next few days and weeks. Having never met him, he will remain the mythical character of my childhood who once walked up to home plate in the old Met and ended an epic battle with one swing of the bat. Touch ’em all Killer! You’ve earned the round trip.