Hanging a No. 3 Nationals jersey in the dugout with Harmon Killebrew's name on the back was a nice gesture by the Nationals. Though he never played for the current franchise, Killebrew never missed an opportunity over the years to boost Washington, D.C., as a baseball city. He also became involved with the Loudoun Hounds, the new Atlantic League independent franchise that begins play in 2012.
I first met Killebrew in 1975 when he was finishing his career as a DH with the Kansas City Royals. In retrospect, you almost wish he'd retired in 1974, so he could've spent his entire career with the same franchise. He hit only .199 that final season, but still clubbed 14 home runs in 106 games, third best on the club. Anyway, I sat down with him in the visitor's clubhouse at Memorial Stadium after an Orioles game. We started talking about his years in Washington, and before you knew it, we were the last ones there, other than Frank White, who was hanging on everything Killebrew had to say.
The following year, KIllebrew was broadcasting with the Twins, and when Minnesota came to Baltimore, I encountered him on the steps outside the press lounge. Before I could say anything, he addressed me by name and started a conversation. I was blown away, to say the least.
Over the years, I did multiple radio shows with Killebrew, including a full hour at the 2005 All-Star Game FanFest in Detroit. He was always entertaining and clearly kept up with the game on a daily basis. While he was with me on the stage, his wife Nita sat with my wife Diane nearby on some folding chairs. Nita was a little surprised when Diane told her that she saw Harmon in our bedroom every day. Some years back, Killebrew did a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation, a lithograph of his swing in a Senators' uniform by artist Walt Spitzmiller, which we had framed and hangs on the wall. It's in a more prominent spot now, in the family room.
I could go on talking about Killebrew, and what a spectacular human being he is. He had some previous rough spots in his life, and has come out of those in good shape. His current battle against esophageal cancer, however, is beyond even his level of optimism.
The worst part of aging isn't losing your hair, or the various aches and pains associated with it. You can buy hair, and you can take pain relievers. It's losing the people you've admired and cherished for nearly a lifetime that's really tough to take. This one hurts a lot.