Harmon Killebrew announces he has cancer

Most people associate Harmon Killebrew with the Minnesota Twins, and with good reason -- he played 14 of his 22 major league seasons there, and hit 475 of his 573 homers with the Twins, becoming the first real star for the team as it put down roots in the Midwest.

But before Killebrew was with the Twins in Minnesota, he was a young star for the Washington Senators; a raw, free-swinging kid from Idaho who arrived in the majors at age 18 and shuttled between the majors and minors for five seasons. Once he put it all together, though, he became one of the game’s most dominant sluggers first in a Senators uniform, blasting a combined 73 homers in the team’s final two years at Griffith Stadium. And long after the Senators had left Washington for Minnesota, Killebrew’s name hung in the Washington Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium, where it was waiting to greet the return of baseball to the District in 2005.

Now, the old slugger is in for “the most difficult battle of my life,” as he called it this morning. Killebrew, 74, announced in a statement today that he was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He is undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. In his statement, Killebrew said his condition is “very serious,” but expressed confidence he’ll make a full recovery.

Here is the full text of the statement:

“I was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life. I am being treated by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic. While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff and I anticipate a full recovery.

The Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers treating esophageal cancer in the world. In the past decade, they have made tremendous advances in the treatment of this disease. Nita and I feel blessed to have access to the best doctors and medical care. I thank everyone for their outpouring of prayers, compassion and concern. Nita and I ask for privacy during this difficult journey.”