“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world,” sang Jim “Mudcat” Grant during the service for Harmon Killebrew on a beautiful sun-filled May 26 night. Grant, a teammate from the 1960s, Twins personnel, fans, former and current Twins players, family members, and Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron gathered at Target Field to celebrate the life of Harmon Clayton Killebrew. With flowers and decorations in the middle of the infield, it was a glorious night to honor one of the greatest players in MLB history, who died from esophageal cancer on May 17.
There was plenty of great music played throughout the memorial, including the Minnesota Chorale singing some of the most wonderful songs (one being “America, The Beautiful”). Toward the beginning of the ceremony, Grant sung an outstanding rendition of “What a Wonderful World”. This song was Killebrew’s favorite and he had asked Grant to sing it. Later in the program, Jeff Arundel, a local musician, performed a song he created in memory of Killebrew. The music choice was so fitting for the occasion.
There were several well-known speakers including Bud Selig (MLB commissioner), Jim Kaat (former Twins player), Paul Molitor (former Twins player), Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau (current Twins players), and Nita Killebrew (Harmon’s wife). They all spoke of how wonderful Killebrew was. Most players talked about how Killebrew would make sure that their signature was legible and he would make players re-write it until Killebrew OK’d it. At the podium, Selig said this of Harmon: “He represented baseball the way it should be and set an example for future generations of Major League Baseball players.” In every single speech, there was a constant message: Harmon was a great ball player with even a better personality.
At one point during the evening, the Twins demonstrated where Killebrew’s famous 520-foot blast at Metropolitan Stadium would have landed in Target Field. Killebrew pummeled that ball in June 1967 off of California pitcher Lew Burdette. The camera zoomed in to the last row of left-center field’s upper deck (Section 334). The spot was just at the right of the main video board. When the camera zoomed to the seat, Jim Thome was sitting there holding up a #3 Twins jersey. Thome and Killebrew were great friends, even after he passed Killebrew on the all-time home run list last year.
At the end of the service, the Twins paid respect to Killebrew’s contributions to the Miracle League, an organization that helps children with disabilities play baseball. Four Miracle League participants relived one of Killebrew’s home runs. As each kid ran to a base, Target Field’s loud speakers sounded home run calls that Killebrew hit. As each ball player headed for home, fireworks went off above the main video board. This represented how much Killebrew loved helping people with unique challenges and disabilities.
As Killebrew’s supporters exited the ballpark, the Twins played the perfect song to close out a night of stories and memories of Killebrew’s life: “Talkin’ Twins Baseball” by Terry Cashman. This ceremony was an excellent way to say a final farewell to a baseball legend who smacked 573 home runs in 21 seasons. So long, “Hammerin’ Harmon.”
Written by: Michael L. Sack