Killebrew ends fight vs cancer, looks to hospice

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In the plaza outside Target Field, there is a giant bronze glove where fans pose for pictures. It is the same distance from home plate, 520 feet, as that longest home run Killebrew ever hit. His No. 3 jersey is retired, and a replica will be in Minnesota’s dugout for the rest of the season. There’s a statue in his likeness outside the ballpark, too, and two roses were left near the base of the statue on Friday. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer said the players want to wear the 1961 throwback jerseys for every home game the rest of the season in Killebrew’s honor.

Killebrew has maintained a regular presence around the Twins over the years. He made an effort to get to know almost all the current players, striking particularly close friendships with Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome among others.

“I never watched him play. The only way I do know him is as a mentor, as a genuine person,” Cuddyer said. “He was a father figure to pretty much everybody he met. That says it all.”

Gardenhire said one of his favorite memories was seeing Killebrew walk in his office in full uniform in spring training a few years ago after the manager had invited him to join the team.

“He was excited and ready to go,” Gardenhire said. “He asked me, ‘What do you want? What do you need me to do?’ I said, ‘Just be you,’ and that’s what he did.”

His nickname, “The Killer,” defied his humble, gentle demeanor, but he sure could crush a baseball with that big bat of his.

“I didn’t have evil intentions,” Killebrew once said, “but I guess I did have power.”

His home run totals turned out to be that much more impressive, given the smaller parks, watered-down pitching staffs and juiced balls and players that came in the decades after he retired.

Though Killebrew has been passed in recent years by Alex Rodriguez and Thome on the homer list to fall out of the top 10, he ought to be in 11th place for some time, particularly as dominant young pitchers have taken control of this post-steroid era in baseball. With Manny Ramirez’s sudden retirement last month, the next closest active players are Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones with 440.

Albert Pujols, with 415 homers at age 31, might be the next threat to reach Killebrew’s mark.

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