Harmon Killebrew's announcement that he's undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer has put a damper on my holiday spirit.
I can't sit here and tell you that Harmon's a close personal friend. I've interviewed him several times over the past 35 years and he seems to remember me each time, but that's not the same thing. I can say that in that many years of doing what I do, he's right at the top of my list of good guys.
I watched a young Killebrew in a Senators uniform when I was growing up, and never got the opportunity to chat with him until he was playing for the Royals his final season and I was a fairly new broadcaster. He treated me like he'd known me for years when we met at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, and gave me all the time I needed.
A year or so later when he was broadcasting for the Twins he came through Baltimore and greeted me by name in the press box. I was surprised, to say the least.
Since then I've encountered Harmon in a number of settings, and he's never been less than cordial. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1984 he gave a speech in which he recounted a moment from his childhood when his mother mentioned to his father that all of the ballplaying in the backyard was tearing up the grass. "We're not raising grass," his dad replied, "we're raising boys." Those of us who had similar relationships with our own fathers got a little misty on that one.
Harmon had some health issues about 20 years ago that required multiple surgeries and he nearly died. He fought through it, though, and has lead a pretty active lifestyle since. He recently got involved with a new independent team in Northern Virginia, the Loudoun Hounds, who begin play in the Atlantic League in 2012. Harmon was scheduled to be on hand at one of their events in February, but I suspect that's on hold for the moment.
My wife's uncle survived esophageal cancer, and given Killebrew's ethic, I wouldn't bet against him beating it too. A few thousand positive thoughts sent his way can't hurt either.