On-field results were far from ideal last year, but the 2010 season will always be one to remember for the Vikings and fans because it was the 50th season in franchise history. Honoring former players was a critical component of the organization’s season-long celebration and that specific effort culminated in a “Celebrating 50 Seasons Gala” in December, an event that saw the franchise unveil its 50 Greatest Players.
The 50th season in Vikings history, including all the work that went into celebrating the franchise’s history, is something I’ll always remember about my time working for the club. The highlight of the season, for me, was the Celebrating 50 Seasons Gala because 46 of the 49 living players from the 50 Greatest list were able to attend and I spent time with all of them.
All of this comes to mind now with the passing of Harmon Killebrew, a Twins legend and Minnesota fan favorite. Diagnosed with esophageal cancer last December, Killebrew, a baseball Hall of Famer and veteran of 22 MLB seasons, battled the disease for 5 months and last week announced he was entering hospice care in Arizona.
“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end,” Killebrew said in a statement last week. “With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.”
Killebrew passed away in Arizona on Tuesday morning. He was 74.
“Every nice thing you can say about someone is true about Harmon Killebrew,” said longtime Vikings Head Trainer and current Senior Consultant Fred Zamberletti, who has treated countless professional athletes in Minnesota since the 1960s. “I treated him as a patient, and when he came into my office he was very gracious with everyone inside. He treated people with respect and he’s an outstanding representative of Minnesota. Harmon always had a smile on his face.”
Killebrew is legend in Twins lore, having blasted 475 of his 573 career home runs in Minnesota. He’s 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list and ranked 5th until this past decade; no one hit more home runs than Killebrew in the 1960s. Killebrew, the 1969 AL MVP, was loved by fans and teammates and was always present for the Twins franchise following his playing days. He was an annual visitor to Spring Training, a dedicated and generous member of the local community and a great ambassador of baseball. The next time you visit Target Field, notice the bronze statue of Killebrew outside of the facility.
As sports fans, it’s important to appreciate what former players and legends have done for their particular sport and for our local culture. Whether it be tremendous on-field accomplishments, generous charitable efforts off the field or a combination of both, sports stars serve as influential figures in society – good and bad.
Killebrew is more than a sports star, though. He’s a legend and he is truly a positive influence on those who knew him, those who watched him and those who followed him, from his days of hammering home runs at Met Stadium to his excitement in christening Target Field.
The thoughts and prayers of the entire Vikings organization are with the Killebrew family and the Twins organization. What are your memories of Harmon Killebrew? Share them with us in the comments section below this entry.
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