It’s hard to figure out how to tie these two items together in any sensible fashion, so I’ll just spit it out for you.
The splints are out. Gone. No longer residing in my nasal passages. I can smell better, breathe better, and according to the pathology report, the polyps and papillomas were benign. It was funny, though, as the doctor opened my chart and said basically that he was sorry, but he needed to review my chart for a moment to see what was going on. But after a quick glance at a page, he straightened up and said “Oh yeah, you.” Highlights: a papilloma in the sinus nearly in the center of my head that was almost the size of a walnut. But they’re all gone now and I’m good for a while. One last scoping next week to make sure everything’s clear, but then it’s a year or two until the next time he’ll need to look at me.
But “The Killer” died today. Harmon Killebrew, one of the familiar faces and numbers from Minnesota Twins history is gone. Just Friday, his family announced that he was ending his cancer treatment and he was going into hospice. Fans were crushed then, but this morning came the news that he was gone forever, left to us only as pictures, grainy and faded movies of his play, and stories–the lore that makes baseball such a great game.
I can say I’d met him once, at a TwinsFest on the floor of the Dome years ago when it was just Patrick and I. Patrick was young and had little interest in most of the event, except he wanted to see Lew Ford (his favorite player at the time), TC, and run around on the turf. We were walking along on the way to something he wanted to see, when I saw Harmon walking the other way, heading to an autograph table. I think I gasped, made a sheepish wave to say “hi,” and not expecting much more, but he was bouncing back and forth, shaking as many hands as he could as he passed, apparently not caring that in minutes he was due to sign some huge number of pictures, papers, baseballs and bats. I was a little surprised that he wasn’t taller, but as he grabbed my hand, I could feel that he was still a strong guy. He looked at Patrick, bent down, and offered to shake his hand, but Patrick kind of tucked himself behind my leg. The Killer smiled, straightened up, and thanked us both for coming. Idiot that I was, I didn’t ask him to sign anything, so the handshake is all I have.
From that one meeting, along with all of the stories I’ve heard about him, it’s clear that baseball, if not the world, need more men like him. He “got it,” knowing that being a great player and a great person makes you a great hero in the game, but also knowing that even 30 years removed from his playing days, you still owe the fans of the game everything you have. He knew that he didn’t just play for a team, he played for our team.
You hear over and over that the Twins’ organization is like that, more so than any other team: You can still go the ballpark on most nights here and meet and shake hands with and get a picture with Tony Oliva (thanks for taking that picture, mom!). Kent Hrbek is still recognizable and shows up around town a lot. Rod Carew even comes through town from time to time. Jack Morris, who did grow up here, is closer to this team now than to the Tigers–the team he played for the longest. Bert Blyleven is nearly a state treasure. And when Kirby Puckett died, I think the entire state stopped to pay tribute partially because that was so tragic and unexpected. But I think the same will probably happen with Harmon.
Reading all of the stories today about his life and career, nothing bad was said, no controversy mentioned, just that he was one of the greatest pure power hitters ever to play the game. I heard a radio interview with Mudcat Grant earlier tonight, and in the middle of his glowing recollections of Harmon, he started crying. You don’t get that kind of reaction from a former teammate and opponent unless you were a good person.
Baseball needs more Harmon Killebrews. Really.
See you tomorrow.