The old man rolled in unexpectedly and unannounced. Nobody knew he was coming â€” especially not the guest of honor.
But, when Harmon Killebrew stepped off the Twins Caravan bus and into the home of Rick and Dori Fiedler of Rothsay, Minn., on Jan. 25, 2006, he lit up the room.
There to visit young Cole Fiedler, aÂ Type I spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) sufferer, Killebrew was his affable self. He was everywhere, talking to everyone. He didnâ€™t seem 69 years old and he sure as heck didnâ€™t have the aura of one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived.
â€œTo come to a home like this, I think, is a pretty special thing to do,â€ Killebrew said during me interview.
That was the first and only time I got to meet and interview Killebrew, the Minnesota Twins great who announced Friday that he has chosen not to continue his fight with esophageal cancer and will seek hospice care.
Through my years as a sports reporter, Iâ€™ve had the pleasure to meet and interview several sports celebrities. What will forever stick out in my mind about Killebrew was that he just didnâ€™t seem like all the rest.
Interviewing Bud Grant was like asking questions of a brick wall. Tommy Lasorda was over the top; he even made fun of my last name. Darryl Strawberry was â€¦ odd to say the least.
Killebrew just seemed like any other kindly old man youâ€™d find anywhere in America. When you met him, you almost wanted to say, â€˜This is guy who hit 573 homers and was a 13-time American League all-star? Youâ€™re kidding me, right?â€™
But, thatâ€™s what has made Killebrew great. Thatâ€™s why his presence in the game of baseball has lived on so long after his playing days were past him. Thatâ€™s why everyone in Twins Territory from the players to the fans, were broken up about Fridayâ€™s news that he had humbly and bravely resigned himself to the final days of his life.
Truly, No. 3 was a rare one. He was the kind of professional athlete we donâ€™t have anymore. And while he isnâ€™t gone yet, he has given those who know his legacy reason to pause and remember just how great of a man he really was.