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Killebrew beloved for his kindness

MINNEAPOLIS -- They heard the news Friday morning. Most of them cried.

Told that Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew would stop fighting esophageal cancer and choose hospice care for his last days, those who revered the Minnesota Twins icon remembered the slugger who swung for the fences and the man who refused to build them.

"He just cares about everybody he comes in contact with," Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. "I think that's part of what makes this so tough for everybody, is he's so willing to help everybody else, and you feel so helpless, not being able to do anything to give back to him.

"All you can do is say 'Thank you' for all that he's taught us and let him know that everybody here is deeply saddened by this.

"If there's a better place, he's going to it, that's for sure."

Killebrew visited Twins spring training this year, even though team president Dave St. Peter and others advised against it, given Killebrew's health. Killebrew and Morneau spoke, and there was sympathy.

"He said he felt so bad for me," said Morneau, who suffered a season-ending concussion last season. "For someone in his position, he's telling me he's worried about me. It's pretty amazing. It just speaks to the character of him."

St. Peter visited Killebrew in Arizona on Thursday. Again, there was sympathy.

"I was with Harmon last night, and he made a point of asking me how Gardy was doing because he knows we're scuffling on the field," St. Peter said, referring to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "It was kind of classic Harmon. He was worried about everybody but himself."

Killebrew became an original Twin when the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. He became the greatest Twin, finishing his career with 573 home runs. He ranks 11th all-time in that category, and seventh among sluggers who never have been connected with steroids.

"Everybody knows him because he was the home-run king," former teammate Tony Oliva said. "I know him better, and I think he was a better person than ballplayer. Killer would always go out of his way to help somebody else."

Killebrew insisted that young players learn to sign legible autographs, to connect with fans. He lent his time and name to charities. He made Friday's announcement in part to support hospices, when he could have, instead, maintained his privacy.

He killed baseballs with an uppercut and people with kindness.

"The first time I met him was TwinsFest my first year," Joe Mauer said. "I was 18 years old. I met him and it was just 'Harmon,' and I thought he was nice. I didn't really know too much of the history. I was just like, wow, he's a really nice guy.

"I don't know who, but someone told me, 'Yeah, that guy's a Hall of Famer right there.' That's one thing I've admired about him since I've met him, is he treats everybody the same. You wouldn't know he's a Hall of Famer when he walks in the room."

Bert Blyleven, who will join Killebrew in the Hall of Fame this July, called Killebrew "a father-like figure." Wouldn't it have been nice if Killebrew could have joined him at Cooperstown this summer?

"He'll be there," Blyleven said. "One way or another."

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