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A Lesson from Harmon Killebrew (Friday, May 20, 2011)

July 22, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Lesson from Harmon Killebrew

My son Sid and his new team mates gathered at the rec center garage to be issued baseball uniforms. It was the day after Harmon Killebrew died. Earlier, Sid read the feature piece in the daily newspaper about Harmon’s life and passing. He said it was a good piece and when I read it, I saw that it could only be good because of its subject. What he read was the kind of example of something that makes me feel good to see my son put on a baseball uniform.


Many things, people and events from our childhood can be easy fodder for nostalgia. What else could cause us to turn a blind eye to Ty Cobb carrying a piece of rope from a lynching in his pocket, or the sad stories that followed Kirby Puckett in the last years of his life. (See “’Are You Really KirbyPuckett?’”)


I will not carry a naivete that will convince me that Harmon Killebrew was without sin, a man as perfect as he seemed—who made almost all of his noise with a bat and a quiet, gentle manner but almost none against another player or human being. But his strong silence was a true example. He treated people well, especially kids, for whom an autograph is as valuable as any item that could possibly be bestowed upon her or him.


Many years ago, I was in Arizona during Spring Training with my friend Tom, where the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants were warming up before a game. Things were much more relaxed back then, when a chain linked fence was meant more to keep the ball in play than spectators out.

During a sparsely attended warmup on that late 1980s Scottsdale afternoon, I saw two boys pleading with then A’s slugger Jose Cansaco for an autograph. He ignored the boys. “Jose, Jose,” they called. “Please, can we get your autograph? Jose. Jose,” they both called. Nothing. They left disappointed.

Moments later, a young woman who was wearing very little, waving her piece of paper and pen came to the fence. This was something (and for Canseco, I mean something) of value to him. She/this got his attention. He motioned her to jump the fence and run out to him. She did. She got his autograph. What Canseco got, even in the momentary exchange, was more than he deserved from his actions to that point and, given his detailed history as a ball player and as a man off the field, what he deserved at points before and after.


It may be a lesson about the real world, and maybe my values and naivete are just unrealistic, but what the boys could learn from that moment is not something that they could use to make their world a better place.


Harmon helps young boy at Miracle League game in, May 30, 2008. Photo: Mike Peterson, StarTribune.


Last week, I unearthed a commemorative Harmon Killebrew baseball card, a photo of him in his prime that Sid and I picked up at a Twins game years ago. I save everything. There must be a reason. Maybe I am hoping for more lessons. I need more lessons.


Like Killebrew, I am not without sin and certainly have conveyed lessons that are not ones that I care to remember—or for anyone else to carry into their interactions with the rest of their worlds. But Kellebrew’s legacy is a lesson about manhood, strength and when to be quiet and those actions that are louder than any words: Lessons like ones I hope to convey on my better days.


And yesterday, as Sid took his cuts in the batting cage, in preparation for his team’s first game. I hope he does well. He may not do as well as Harmon Killebrew on Saturday, but I hope he learned a couple of lessons.


One of Sid’s chess buddies, Jake, helping a girl with her glove at a Miracle League game in honor of Harmon Killebrew this week.  Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, StarTribune.


One Comment leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 5:49 pm

    My sisters and I were NOT allowed to walk on the grass so this quote from Harmon Killebrew makes me smile, he said: My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” Dad would reply. “We’re raising boys.”
    May 27, 2011 11:14 PM

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