Fan: 'I've never been so sad about someone I didn't know'

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2011 - 8:36 AM

Outside Target Field, fans gathered by the statue of Harmon Killebrew to remember the player they identified as one of their heroes.

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A baseball with a simple inscription was among the items left at the feet of the bronze statue of Harmon Killebrew on the plaza outside Target Field on Tuesday.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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By noon Tuesday, the news had spread: Harmon Killebrew -- Twins slugger, Minnesota ambassador, fan favorite and community inspiration -- had died after a battle with esophageal cancer.

As news media swarmed the area outside Target Field, where the bronzed legend stood forever frozen in his magical home run swing, one man stood quietly in the background, his gray-blue eyes welling up with tears.

At that moment, he was a child again, watching his hero from afar.

"He was kind of the Twins for me," said Kevin Lindquist, a middle-aged man who grew up in Fridley. "It's who you wanted to see."

On this day, he came, in a way, to see him one last time. Even as the memories washed over him, his own reaction seemed to surprise him.

"It kind of makes you feel like your childhood years are gone -- like part of your life is taken away," he said. "I know it sounds stupid ... but I've never been so sad about someone I didn't know."

• • •

Jackie Oie, who claims it would be hard for the Twins to be more ingrained in her life history, likes to say she's in her "51st season."

"I was born in February 1961, just in time for the first year of Twins spring training," she said. Oie grew up with a poster of Killebrew on her wall and remembers gaping at the red seat in the old Met Stadium where the slugger's longest home ball had landed.

Her son was born in 1982, the year the Twins moved to the Metrodome, and baseball always remained the common denominator between mother and son, she said. In '91, when Oie was in a coma from a car accident, her cousin leaned over her bed and said, "Jackie, you've got to wake up -- they're lining up for World Series tickets!"

"The heart monitor just went crazy," she said. "I'm a Twins fan even in a coma."

Tuesday, after a part of her history died, she brought three single red roses and placed them beneath Killebrew's statue with the other flowers, plus the hand-written notes and rosaries.

• • •

It was long ago, and so the memories for John Grabow, a 51-year-old Minnesota native, are fuzzy.

But though he can't remember all the specifics, the aura that followed Killebrew around, he said, was just as important.

"I always had the feeling here that the Twins were never out of a game if Killebrew had an at-bat left," said Grabow, who started coming to games at the Met at age 10, for the Knothole games. "Maybe they were down by two runs ... but if he was going to be up again, you knew they had a shot at it."

Looking back, the constant stories of Killebrew long balls and game-winners -- which dotted the backgrounds of many summers for Grabow -- are even more special.

"His home runs weren't steroid-tainted," he said.

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