His voice cracked like the whack of wood against leather as I stepped up to the plate, bat handle vise-gripped in my hands, feet planted in packed gravel next to the rusted, cast-off disk from the disk harrow.
As my oldest brother lobbed the ball toward me, I swung, and as was typical of me, missed. I was aiming to hit the ball toward the barn and milkhouse at the edge of the farm yard, our ball field.
Almost every evening, as the sun inched lower in the prairie sky toward the greening fields of early spring and then into the hot, humid days of tasseling corn, my siblings and I traded chore gloves for softball gloves. “Let’s play ball,” we’d yell in unison.
And then the arguing would begin. “I’m Harmon Killebrew,” my oldest brother hollered, the name flying off his tongue with the speed of a fast pitch.
No matter how loudly the rest of us protested his call, we struck out. He was the eldest. If he wanted to be Killebrew, then he would be Killebrew.
We assumed the roles of other 1960s Twins greats like Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.
But we all wanted to emulate Killebrew, to swing the bat, to watch the ball powerhouse toward the barn roof, maybe even sail as far as the silo room or the cow yard beyond, well out of reach of our siblings’ outstretched hands.
Such are my memories of the Twins’ home run slugger.
I’ve never been to a Twins game, never met Killebrew, don’t watch or listen to baseball.
Yet, upon learning of Killebrew’s death, a twinge of melancholy swept across me as I thought of those pick-up farm yard softball games, the baseball cards my brothers collected and the static of my eldest brother’s transistor radio broadcasting a Twins game in the 1960s.
For all the sibling bickering over who would pretend to be Killebrew or Carew or Oliva, those post chores games score among the home runs of my rural Minnesota childhood.
Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling