I like, so many others, grew up knowing the legend of the great Harmon Killebrew. Born in 1979, I never had the chance to see him play, but it's hard to be baseball fan and not know of his influence.
It wasn't until I came to Minnesota that I realized just how much more he meant off the field to the game of baseball and to Minnesotans.
Harmon was the epitome of what it means to be a role model. He knew that part of being an athlete was to always be in the limelight and therefore, you should always conduct yourself as such.
He was a mentor to many current Twins players, many of whom I had the chance to talk with last Friday when Killebrew entered hospice care. Their stories were surprisingly similar. All of them described him as a man who treated everyone the same, superstar or not. Harmon was adamant about signing good autographs for fans, saying that if you're going to sign it, make sure they can read it.
But his care for the players went beyond baseball. He took the time to get to know them as more than just ball players but as people; kids who were adjusting to a very exciting life that can sometimes lead you down the wrong path. Luckily for them, the Twins are always good about keeping former players around as advisors and no one was happy to advise more than Harmon Killebrew.
I had the chance to meet Harmon twice; the one that sticks out to me most was at his annual charity golf tournament in 2007. The instant I met him, it seemed like we'd been friends for years. He spoke about his family, his passion for The Miracle League (an organization that helps children with mental and physical challenges play baseball) and the Twins community fund. After that 10 minute conversation it was hard to remove the smile from my face the rest of the day. I never had the chance to talk with him again, but like so many others my memory of that day and of Harmon will never fade (luckily it was also one of the few times I asked to get a picture while on the job)
Last week, Twins President Dave St. Peter told me; "if there was a Mount Rushmore of Minnesota sports, Harmon Killebrew would be on it". This would be a fitting tribute to a man that seemed larger than life. But an even bigger tribute is his legacy -- that he left the world a much better place than he had found it and I hope that in his final few days, he knew this to be true.