A rubberized playing surface will be poured this week for a special-needs baseball field at King Park in Lakeville, one of the finishing touches on what will be named Harmon Killebrew Field.
Killebrew, who died last week of esophageal cancer, was very ill when his wife told him several weeks ago that the new Miracle League field for disabled players would be named after him, said Kelly McDyre, executive director of his foundation. She telephoned the news to Nita Killebrew, who quickly called her back.
"He was moved to tears because it was so important to him," McDyre recalled. "It was really neat because Harmon got to hear it before he died."
Killebrew, 74, loved baseball and kids and tried to direct his giving to bring them together. McDyre said he had supported a Twins program for renovating inner-city ballparks so young athletes could play on good fields.
"He connected to kids," McDyre said. She said he had helped Miracle League kids bat and ran the bases with them. "He just loves seeing the pure expression of joy these kids have. They radiate."
He was especially pleased to have a field in the south metro area, because he had lived in Prior Lake for a time when he played for the Twins, she said.
Killebrew had been involved with the Miracle League since he helped open the league's first Minnesota field in Blaine in May 2006, said Kevin Thoresen, founder of the Minnesota Miracle League.
"He came up to me and said 'I love this. I want to be more involved,'" Thoresen said. "He saw and knew the significance of giving every child a chance to play baseball, and that's what the Miracle League is about."
In the past five years, the Harmon Killebrew Foundation has donated more than $250,000 for the smooth cushioned fields, including a significant gift toward Lakeville's $400,000 field, said Brian Roseen, director of the South Metro Miracle League. Killebrew made the largest of dozens of gifts for the Lakeville field, he said.
"We are thrilled for what he has done for us," said Roseen, who has helped lead fundraisers for four years to build the field.
Roseen has received approval from the Harmon Killebrew Foundation for Lakeville's scoreboard to bear their logo with Harmon Killebrew Field and No. 3 on it. He said he has invited foundation officials and Nita Killebrew for the field's dedication in late June.
McDyre said she is confident Nita Killebrew could appear at the field opening because she would be in Minneapolis in late June for the Kwik Trip Harmon Killebrew Classic golf tournament.
"I think she would be thrilled to stand in for Harmon," McDyre said.
The first of three services for Killebrew was held Friday near his Arizona home.
Lakeville's will be Minnesota's seventh Miracle League field for players with physical or mental disabilities. Other fields are in Blaine, Minnetonka, Rochester, Mankato, Moorhead, and coming in early June, St. Cloud, Thoresen said. Woodbury and Duluth will open fields later this summer.
Thoresen noted that the Minnetonka field, opened in 2008, is co-named for Killebrew and major sponsor Subway Restaurants. He said the slugger also helped pay for a Miracle field in Phoenix.
It will take about two weeks to pour and cure Lakeville's rubberized field, which will be colored green and brown to look like a traditional ballpark. It will have white painted base lines, home plate and bases. It won't have bumps, bag bases or barriers around the dugouts to hinder players in wheelchairs, Roseen said.
"The rubber is designed to protect them if they fall," he said.
Killebrew became the first Minnesota Twin inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. He played for the Twins from 1961 when they moved to the Twin Cities from Washington, D.C., through 1974. He was a six-time home run leader in the American League and its MVP in 1969.
Jim Adams • 952-707-9996