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Twins, past and present, and fans honor Killebrew

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Killebrew Memorial
Fans of the Minnesota Twins attend a memorial for Hall of Fame Twins player Harmon Killebrew at Target Field in Minneapolis, Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Minneapolis. Killebrew died last week from cancer.
AP Photo/St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin

There was a black band over the No. 3 that hangs in the rafters of Target Field Thursday. It reflected the feeling of the hundreds who flocked to the ballpark to remember Harmon Killebrew, who died earlier this month from esophageal cancer at the age of 74.

Killebrew was the Twins' first Hall of Famer and first face of the franchise. Current and past Twins who spoke at the memorial said Killebrew had been a mentor to them. 

Many players, including Michael Cuddyer, said Killebrew taught them how to sign clear autographs for fans. Cuddyer said Killebrew showed him how to famous without being arrogant.

"Not only did he not have an ego, he would always change the subject when talking about how good he was," Cuddyer said. "He would always take the time to ask people how they were doing and what they were up to, and he would genuinely listen to their response. He was and is the epitome of professionalism, generosity and class."

Current and former Twins players honored Killebrew as a tranquil man with a fierce nickname -- "Killer." Other famous figures at the tribute included hitting legend Hank Aaron and baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Killebrew's family and former teammates arrived at Target Field in a light rail car decorated with Killebrew's No. 3. They entered the field through gate No. 3 and sat in folding chairs along the baselines.

Flower arrangements in the figure 3 were set up just behind the pitcher's mound. Speakers addressed the audience from a podium by second base. 

Jim Thome
Minnesota Twins' Jim Thome sits in the upper bleachers at the spot where the 520-foot home run off the bat of Twins Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew would have landed at the old Met Stadium in Target Field during a public memorial service for Killebrew, Thursday, May 26, 2011, at Target Field in Minneapolis. Killebrew died last week from cancer.

Former Twins pitcher Jim Kaat was Killebrew's teammate on the 1965 Twins team that won the American League pennant. 

He said what set Killebrew apart was his off-field demeanor. Kaat said Killebrew was always calm and that carried over when Killebrew was at bat.

The sun set and the shadows stretched across the field as speakers remembered Killebrew as a role model who was happy to be a mentor to younger players. 

Rod Carew said he was a hot head as a young player just signed to the Twins.

Killebrew's wife, Nita Killebrew, said she's usually a shy and quiet person, but she said her husband had asked her to speak at the memorial.

Before she left the podium, Nita Killebrew asked everyone in Target Field to stand in a symbolic act of defiance toward the cancer that killed her husband. She asked the people gathered to make a difference by learning about cancer and fighting it -- for her husband and everyone else effected by the disease.