Twins legend Killebrew celebrated, remembered in Arizona

  • Updated: May 20, 2011 - 6:10 PM

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The Friday funeral for Twins legend and baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew provided an extension of the ongoing celebration of a man who seemed to be universally loved on and off the field.

Friends, family and representatives from the Twins organization gathered at Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. Killebrew died Tuesday of esophageal cancer. He was 74.

Country music legend Charley Pride spoke and performed, opening up with "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

Childhood friend Ray Looney told old stories from high school days and new stories of traveling with his buddy on overseas journeys.

"He loved his family deeply," Looney said. "He had happiness and purpose. He enjoyed his life."

His grandson, Eric Queathem, son-in-law, Craig Bair, and daughter, Shawn Bair, followed with similarly touching remembrances and words.

Several former and current Twins, including Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, were honored when asked to be pall bearers at the funeral.

"They asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, 'Of course,'" Morneau said. "It's hard to put into words. He was just an amazing person. I'd do anything they asked."

Added Cuddyer: "Definitely the biggest honor of my life."

Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven had those in attendance stand and cheer Killebrew for an imagined home run No. 574 near the end of the service, and the crowd responded with a rousing effort.

But it was Killebrew the man who was celebrated far more than Killebrew the baseball player.

"In his modest and caring way, he always tried to make people feel good about themselves," Queathem said.

Son Cam spoke of the outpouring of support his father had received in recent months as he fought the deadly disease.

"I don't think he really realized how much he was loved," he said. "That's the kind of man he was. He was so humble. He got a lot of things but I'm not sure he really got that, and it was just beautiful."

A private burial is planned Monday in Killebrew's hometown of Payette, Idaho. A memorial service is scheduled next Thursday night at Target Field.

The Twins, in a twist of fate, were in Arizona to begin a three-game interleague series against the Diamondbacks on Friday night, so the entire squad was on hand.

Current Twins Joe Nathan, Cuddyer and Morneau, as well as manager Ron Gardenhire, were pall bearers, along with ex-Twin Paul Molitor and Killebrew's former teammates Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Frank Quilici. Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Frank Robinson also attended the service, which was open to the public.

Afterward, Cuddyer said it is his goal to "strive to be Harmon Killebrew."

"Strive to treat people the way he treated people," he said, "and make everybody feel comfortable, make everybody feel like they're special. For one of the biggest names in a sport to be able to make every single person he came into contact with feel special, that's a pretty big achievement."

A lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as the casket was rolled into the giant auditorium, followed by the members of Killebrew's large family.

 Son-in-law Craig Bair read some thoughts from Killebrew's wife, Nita, and from Killebrew himself.

"Harmon's philosophy was so simple and very clear and he wanted to make it clear to us," Bair said. "It goes like this. 'Always give more than you take. Always maintain an even calmness that you might calm others. Truly know that you are loved beyond measure and go out and share that love. Find a place of peace with your partner. Experience daily the love of your family. Enjoy your friends. Know your neighbors and especially go out of your way to do the same to the people new in your life.'"

Daughter Shawn Bair spoke of how she and her sister had driven to see him not long after he was diagnosed with cancer, and when they arrived at his hospital room, even though he was connected to all kinds of tubes, he did what his grandchildren called the "Papa Dance."

"He does love to dance," she said.

He was consumed by neatness, she said.

Hopefully in heaven, his daughter said, "there will be a patio to hose off and floors to vacuum."

"The service was beautiful," Oliva said afterward. "It touched all the points, because that was the man."

STAFF REPORTS and ASSOCIATED PRESS

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  • 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

  • Pall bearers lead the casket of baseball great Harmon Killebrew prior to the funeral services Friday, May 20, 2011, in Peoria, Ariz.

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