Many years ago now, I recall hearing that MLB Hall of Fame player Harmon Killebrew would throw out the first pitch at the Macon Braves baseball game. At the time, the Macon Braves were the Single ‘A’ affiliate of the Atlanta Braves and their games were played at historic Luther Williams Field in Macon. That’s one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the nation. I had long admired Harmon Killebrew so I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
I had been to Luther Williams field many times. I used to attend many minor league baseball games, to enjoy the game and to get some of my baseball rookie cards signed before they became big stars, when it becomes much more difficult. I took off from work a couple of hours early that afternoon and made the long drive of approximately 100 miles each way but it was worth it.
I was familiar with the layout of the stadium and I knew that once he threw out the first pitch, there was only one easy way out of there. He would go into the dugout and out through the locker room which spilled out right onto the main concourse. I started for that door as soon as he walked off the field. There were a few other people that had the same idea. I figured I had better than a fifty fifty chance of getting an autograph.
Sure enough, Harmon Killebrew walked right out of the clubhouse and saw us and said, “Fellas, I am going to sit down right over there and then I’ll sign for you.” I was thrilled. I had taken an official major league baseball and a card for him to sign. When we entered the ballpark that night, they gave out an autograph book. I didn’t know they still made those. I hadn’t seen one since I as a kid.
I was one of the first ones to get an autograph and I handed him the ball first, being careful to point the sweet spot towards him. Some players won’t sign on the sweet spot but he did and it was a beautiful signature. He also took my card and when I was handing it to him, he said I thought you were going to hand me your book, let me sign that too. I hadn’t dreamed I would get three autographs. Just as he took the third item a security officer arrived to manage the crowd that was now forming. He announced rather loudly, “Okay folks, one item per person please!” I just grinned because I already had three and he was very gracious as I thanked him.
Fortunately for me a friend snapped a few pictures with my camera. This was in the days when people still had cameras you put film into. I had to put the pictures on my scanner in order to upload them for this post.
I have obtained literally thousands of autographs in the last 15-20 years, but few are as memorable or as special as that one. I recall relating the story to a friend who to my surprise didn’t know who Harmon Killebrew was. I asked if they ever heard of Mickey Mantle and they replied of course. I replied, “Well Harmon Killebrew hit more home runs (573) than Mickey.” He was an American league all-star 13 times. He was also the 1969 American league MVP and was the American league home run leader six times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
If I had to guess what year this happened, I would say 2000 or 2001. Harmon Killebrew died in May of 2011. I had no way of knowing that would be my one and only chance to meet him, but I am glad I didn’t let the opportunity to to waste.