When the Minnesota Twins
faced the New York Yankees for the first game of the American League playoff
series at Target Field on October 6th, the honor of throwing out the ceremonial
first pitch of the game went to arguably the best known and most beloved player
in the history of the twin city franchise: Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew. Click here to see what Harmon had to say about the day.
Joining “The Killer” at the pitchers’ mound was a
more recent, but equally
well-liked member of the both the Minnesota family and the 500 Home Run
“Big” Jim Thome.
The man known affectionately as “The Thomenator” (for his
imposing persona at the plate) had a resurgent year in leading the Minnesota
team to the top of the AL Central; a performance good enough to gain him consideration as a regular season MVP candidate,
Despite their menacing nicknames, and the fact that Thome
surpassed Killebrew for 10th place on the career list with his 574th long ball
on Independence Day, the two men had nothing but kind words and admiration for
one another as the current (and future?) member of the Minnesota team delivered
the ball to Twin icon at the center of the Target Field diamond. "I talked to Jim quite a bit
during spring training," recalled Killebrew, “and I told him, 'Don't feel
bad if you pass me up, because I passed up a lot of guys in my career.’"
And the feeling is mutual for Big Jim, who grew up
hearing about Killebrew’s exploits on and off the field. “My Dad always used to talk about
Killebrew. It's kind of a neat story because my dad told me about two different
times when people thought he was Harmon Killebrew. Fans actually approached him
in Dodger Stadium last year asking for his autograph.
These days the Twin sluggers have struck up a friendship
based on mutual admiration. “To
meet Harmon and get an opportunity to be with him in spring training and -- I
mean he's a legend, he's a legendary person, too -- that's what makes it even
better,” said Thome. “That's something that will go down in my book as one of
the better moments in my career, for sure."
And Killebrew, who has famously spoken out regarding his
concerns about the impact of performance enhancing supplements on America’s
game, had nothing but good things to say about his younger protégé. "I had met Jim Thome before he
joined the Twins, and I've always respected him as not only a great baseball
player, but a wonderful man," Killebrew said. "So, getting to know
him better this year, it just put icing on the cake. He's done a great job for
our ball club, and I wish we would've had him several years ago."
Thome too would like to see his name penciled in on the
2011 Twins’ roster. In fact, he
recently told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “I love the game. I'd love to come back, I really would, and
Minnesota was a great place [to play], so we'll see how the winter goes. It
would be great." So with any luck, the 40-year-old Thome will be returning
for his 21st season next year, when he will grow closer to Killebrew as a
friend, even as he continues to distance himself from his hero on the all-time
After surpassing Harmon Killebrew’s 573, Jim Thome’s cruised by Mark
McGwire’s 583 and pulled even with Frank Robinson at 586. Next up: entry into the 600 Home Run
Club and a shot at Sammy Sosa’s No 7 spot at 609.