Friday, May 27, 2011

Who's Your Hero? Whose Hero Are You?

For as long as I can remember, I've always loved baseball. When I was little, my dad bought me a plastic bat and ball and we'd play in the backyard. We'd watch the Twins on our old black and white TV and root for Bob Allison, Camilo Pasqual, Tony Oliva and of course, Harmon Killebrew.

When I was 5, Dad took me to my very first Minnesota Twins game at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. I can still remember my excitement when I first heard the PA announcer's voice over the stadium speakers; "For the Twins, Number Three, Harmon Killebrew!"

At that time, the Twins would host an annual "Camera Day" promotion during which fans were allowed on the track surrounding the field while the players would walk around and pose for pictures. My dad and I went to one of these games one year; I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. Mom had loaded a roll of black and white film into a 35mm camera for me and after some brief instruction, Dad and I left for the stadium. We found our seats, then Dad sat in the stands and let me go onto the field to take pictures of the players. I found a spot in the right field corner and waited while the players made their way around the grass. As Harmon Killebrew approached, I re-checked all of my settings and practiced focusing so I'd be sure to get a great shot. Right about the time he got to my spot, a man from behind pushed in front of me with his kids to get them in a photo. I was panicked! As the players were walking away, I began to think I had missed my chance.

Suddenly, I heard a voice - Harmon Killebrew's - say "Sir, would you mind stepping to the side so the gentleman behind you can get a picture?" The man who was in front of me moved over and Harmon looked right at me and said "That's a pretty fancy camera you have, young man!" I replied softly "it's my mom's."

Harmon posed for me with his hands on his hips, smiled and said "She must trust you very much to let you use it!" I got my photograph and left the field feeling pretty special.

Years later, he'd share a similar magical moment with my own son while at Twinsfest. As we waited in the autograph line, he looked at Joseph (who was wearing his Twins cap with a Baseball Hall of Fame pin on it) and said ""That's a pretty neat pin you have on your cap! Have you been to the Hall of Fame?" Joseph told him that he hadn't, but that he and I were planning a trip there later in the year for Kirby Puckett's Induction.

Harmon looked at him and said "You're going to love it; it's a very special place. I hope I see you there." Needless to say, a few kind words made the entire day for a 9 year old boy (along with his dad!)

Harmon Killebrew died from esophageal cancer this past Tuesday, May 17th. Last night, the Minnesota Twins hosted a Memorial Service at Target Field. Former teammates, family and fans were in attendance to fondly remember the man whose nickname "Killer" contrasted his calm, gentle demeanor. From his welcoming smile to the autograph that has become known as one of the best in baseball, Harmon Killebrew was not only the face of the Twins organization, but an ambassador for baseball to fans all over. It was an awesome tribute to a man who meant so much to so many people over the past 51 years of Minnesota Twins baseball.

To me, it was a fond farewell to a man who earned his status as a childhood hero early, then proceeded to add to his Hall of Fame legacy as time went on.

Over the past week as tributes poured in from former teammates, opposing players, sportswriters and fans, I paused to think of how many lives this man touched over the years. And at times such as these, I always wonder what I will leave behind. What will be my legacy? What will those, whose lives I have had the opportunity to touch with my craft, remember about me?

What's your legacy? What have you done to make someone's day?

I don't want to wait to find these things out. I do have the power to affect these things, beginning today and every day until I leave this world.

Thanks for all of the great memories, Mr. Killebrew. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

- David Grupa

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