Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, right, applauds as he asks mourners to imagine that former Twins' baseball player Harmon Killebrew just hit his 574th home run during the funeral service for her Killebrew at the Christ Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., Friday, May 20, 2011. The Hall of Fame slugger died Tuesday, May 17, of esophageal cancer at 74.

Charlie Leight, Arizona Republic



Killebrew touches them all at funeral

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • May 21, 2011 - 7:38 AM

PEORIA, ARIZ. - One by one, they spoke of Harmon Killebrew's words. They spoke of his deeds.

Many voices were heard, but the message was the same. Killebrew, who passed away Tuesday after a five-month battle with esophageal cancer, was gentlemanly and caring as a person, belying the competitive masher he was as a player.

Mourners at Christ's Church of the Valley included six Hall of Famers, former teammates and the entire Twins team. Yet the day was carried by family and friends who painted a vivid picture of Killebrew with their words to a audience estimated at 750.

None did it better then one of Killebrew's grandsons, Eric Queathem, who was taught important life lessons by Killebrew such as "Never leave the milk in your cereal bowl when you're finished eating."

Queathem also told the story of a golfing trip to the Oregon coast a few years ago.

"Three days, five rounds of golf," Queathem said. "And lots of great walks. By the third day, Harmon's knees were somewhat sore from all the walking. He asked the starter if it would be possible to get a cart for the fifth and final round.

"The starter looked at him and said: 'I'm sorry, sir, we only have a select group of carts, and they aren't available for you. You've walked the first four rounds, you'll have to walk the last.'"

Queathem said he and the rest of the group were stunned. And they wondered if Killebrew would pull out the "Do you know who I am?" card.

"That wasn't his response," Queathem said. "With his gentle voice, he responded, 'OK, thank you.' With pain in every step, he walked the final 18 with no complaints. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if we all possessed greater humility. If we were all like Harmon Killebrew."

Twins Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Paul Molitor and Bert Blyleven were in attendance, as were fellow Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Robin Yount and Fergie Jenkins. Carew and Molitor were pallbearers, along with Tony Oliva, Frank Quilici, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Ron Gardenhire and Joe Nathan. Jeff Idelson represented the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tony Clark represented the MLB Players Association. Commissioner Bud Selig was unable to attend, but he plans on traveling to the Twin Cities on Thursday for the memorial service at Target Field. Laurel Prieb, MLB's director of western operations, represented the league in place of Selig.

Some Twins fans in town for the weekend series against Arizona made their way to Peoria for the service, including Mark Dobberstein, 51, of Rogers, who brought nephews Christian Clavelle, 23, and Justin Clavelle, 19, of Champlin.

"Everyone wanted to be Harmon Killebrew in 1969," said Dobberstein about Killebrew's MVP season, when he smashed 49 homers and drove in 140 runs.

The stories continued. Killebrew's daughter, Shawn Bair, talked about the day he was diagnosed with cancer and she visited him in the hospital. She entered the room and found Killebrew with tubes sticking out of him but still up and doing what the grandchildren used to call "the Papa dance," she said.

He was more concerned about her getting to the hospital without making a wrong turn.

"We came to cheer him up," she said, "but he cheered us up."

Killebrew loved to dance. Ray Looney, a childhood friend from Payette, Idaho, took his wife to visit Killebrew when the Twins once visited the Dodgers. They went out dancing, and Killebrew was on the floor until 3 a.m.

"Then, while the rest of us were exhausted, he proceeded to hit a home run the next day," Looney said.

Killebrew also was a neat freak, and his vacuum control was as precise as the bat control he used to hit 573 career home runs.

He also loved Italian food, and his home in Scottsdale was decorated with that in mind.

As stories were told, there were smiles and nods all over the church, a massive facility that holds 3,200 and serves a congregation of 20,000.

"It was universal, the feeling about Harmon," Twins owner Jim Pohlad said. "Could have had 50 people speaking and nobody would have said anything different. He was just a great guy and that was reinforced here."

Then smiles turned to tears. A video of snapshots from throughout Killebrew's life was shown while a singer belted out "My Way," followed by "What A Wonderful World." By the time it ended, many in attendance were wiping their eyes.

"I could watch those pictures all the time," Pohlad said.

Blyleven was the last to reflect on Killebrew's life. He had everyone stand and applaud Killebrew for hitting home run No. 574 on Friday.

Then, tweaking longtime Twins radio broadcaster John Gordon's "Touch 'em all!" home run call, Blyleven gave the mourners his version.

"Harmon," Blyleven said, "You touched us all."

© 2018 Star Tribune