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The time I made Harmon Killebrew laugh

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Baseball Player Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins

Was he the greatest Twin ever? For fans who were around during his playing days, the consensus is overwhelming. Even to younger generations he stands as an icon of hard work, talent, and decency. Not a bad definition of greatness right there.

As a wee urchin I listened to Twins games of the mid 60’s on an old radio at my grandparent’s house. Halsey Hall had a distinctive cadence that, from the perspective of my now many years, reminds me of the rolling gait of a happy man meandering from one watering hole to the next. But even the inimitable Halsey would brighten with hope each time Harmon stepped to the plate.

The years went by. Halsey passed away. Harmon hung up his spikes and for a time actually did broadcasts himself. I was in college where what I learned about chemistry and history was moderately, or sometimes immoderately, supplemented by life lessons at Culla’s Tavern. A delightful anachronistic time warp of a place, it had an ancient white plastic Hamm’s Beer radio off in a corner. It had a scoreboard on the front and I think you were supposed to keep score with some kind of erasable pen. It also had the word Harmon scrawled on it, presumably to track the man’s home runs. I have a few artifacts of Culla’s, rescued from the march of progress under the blades of bulldozers. I wish I had the Harmon radio and fervently hope it is in good hands.

More years pass. I’m now married to a gal I got to know at Culla’s, playing scrabble at the back table by the Harmon radio. We have three sons. One has the middle name Harmon.

By 2010, the kids were pretty well grown up and we had a bit more free time. One evening, my wife and I went to a dinner put on by local baseball enthusiasts. The guest speaker was Harmon Killebrew. He gave a nice, lighthearted talk although I thought he looked a bit tired and drawn.

Afterwards he was signing things for people. I went up to him and said: “Mr. Killebrew, I don’t need anything signed I just wanted to tell you we named one of our kids after you.” He smiled, chuckled a bit as he shook my hand and said that he had heard about quite a few dogs named after him but not children.

He was of course being characteristically modest. It was not too many months later that he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. And when he – quite likely anyway – ascended to a Hall of Fame more exclusive than Cooperstown* there was an outpouring of fan appreciation that included mention of other examples of a new generation of Harmons.

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* Theology is above my pay grade, but Ty Cobb in Heaven? Oh, I don’t think so.