- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2011

PEORIA, ARIZ. (AP) - Harmon Killebrew’s Hall of Fame career as one of the most powerful sluggers baseball has known was merely a subplot to his story as family and friends gathered to say goodbye.

What they recalled most was Killebrew the gentle, caring man who treated all those he encountered with respect.

Several hundred mourners, including past and present members of the Minnesota Twins, attended Killebrew’s funeral service at a suburban north Phoenix church on a gorgeous sunny Friday morning.

Killebrew, who hit 573 home runs in his long major league career, died Tuesday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., of esophageal cancer at 74.

Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven had those in attendance stand and cheer Killebrew for an imagined home run No. 574 near the end of the service, and the crowd responded with a rousing effort.

But it was Killebrew the man who was celebrated far more than Killebrew the baseball player.

The nickname “Killer” didn’t seem to fit a man so kind, his grandson Eric Queathem said.

“In his modest and caring way, he always tried to make people feel good about themselves,” Queathem said.

Son Cam spoke of the outpouring of support his father had received in recent months as he fought the deadly disease.

“I don’t think he really realized how much he was loved,” he said. “That’s the kind of man he was. He was so humble. He got a lot of things but I’m not sure he really got that, and it was just beautiful.”

A private burial is planned Monday in Killebrew’s hometown of Payette, Idaho. A memorial service is scheduled next Thursday night at Target Field in Minneapolis.

The Twins, in a twist of fate, were in Arizona to begin a three-game interleague series against the Diamondbacks on Friday night, so the entire squad was on hand.

Current Twins Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, as well as manager Ron Gardenhire, were pall bearers, along with ex-Twin Paul Molitor and Killebrew’s former teammates Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Frank Quilici. Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Frank Robinson also attended the service, which was open to the public.

Afterward, Cuddyer said it is his goal to “strive to be Harmon Killebrew.”

“Strive to treat people the way he treated people,” he said, “and make everybody feel comfortable, make everybody feel like they’re special. For one of the biggest names in a sport to be able to make every single person he came into contact with feel special, that’s a pretty big achievement.”

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