By Jim Whitt
A few years ago my friend Paul Willis invited me to play with his team in the Harmon Killebrew Invitational Golf Tournament. At the time Killebrew served as spokesperson for Paul’s company, Cypress Systems.
I found myself surrounded by Hall of Fame Major League ballplayers that I had idolized growing up. I was like a kid in candy store. I had breakfast with Robin Roberts, who Willie Mays called the toughest pitcher he had ever faced. Two-time National League batting champ Tommie Davis played in our group. And at the reception, I had a great conversation with country music legend Charlie Pride. I stood in line with Bob Uecker to get all the gifts that came with playing in the tournament and yes, the celebs collected their freebees just like all of us no-name amateurs. I could write several pages about all of the people I met and the conversations I had. All of the pros and celebrities were genuinely nice people, but no one was more gracious and generous than Harmon Killebrew.
Harmon and his wife, Nita, founded the Harmon Killebrew Foundation to raise money for worthy charities and he hosted the golf tournament for that cause. I can remember standing over a ball I had hit into a bunker when Harmon pulled up in a golf cart and asked with a big smile on his face, “How you doin’ Lefty?” I grew up hitting a baseball left-handed and it carried over to my golf game. It impressed me that he would take the time to visit with me because after all, I was no celebrity. At the reception that night, Sondra and I had our picture taken with Harmon and he insisted on another shot because he thought he had his eyes closed. That was not an act of vanity – he just wanted to make sure we had a good picture. It turned out pretty good. I’ve posted it on my Facebook page if you’d like to see it.
These were the memories that came to mind today when I heard that Harmon Killebrew passed away. When you read the news accounts that describe him as a gentleman you can believe it. When you get to meet one of your heroes in life there is always a little apprehension. You wonder if they will be what you thought they would be or probably more accurately, what you want them to be. I can honestly say that Harmon Killbrew exceeded all of my expectations. Thank you, Paul Willis, for giving me the opportunity to meet one of baseball’s true greats and one of life’s true heroes.
Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Paul and Cypress Systems at http://www.cypsystems.com.
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