HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 2, 2006

Two sluggers linked forever

By Matt Kane

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew hit 573 home runs in his 22-year major league career. He hit his final blast off Minnesota Twins’ left-hander Eddie Bane September 18, 1975, in the second inning of a 4-3 Kansas City win.

Killebrew was a member of the Royals that day. More than two decades earlier, Killebrew was wearing the uniform of the Washington Senators, watching the flight of his first home run ball, hit June 24, 1955, at Tiger Stadium off Detroit pitcher Billy Hoeft in the Senators’ 18-7 loss.

June 24. What a great day to be a baseball player. And what a great day for a future slugger to hit his first home run.

Why is June 24 such a good day to hit a first career home run? Because, like Killebrew, that’s the day I hit my first home run.

What a great feeling, and I can remember it like it was last week. Oh, yeah, it was.

Yep. June 24, 2007. A hot, sunny day in St. Bonifacious, with the Crow River Valley League game between my Winsted Wildcats and the hometown Saints hanging in the balance.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the seventh inning, veteran Saints pitcher Randy Ebert delivered a two-strike, bellybutton-high fastball that was headed for the inner half of the plate. Before it reached the plate, though, I somehow got the barrel of the bat on the ball (that’s doesn’t always happen) and sent a fly ball to left-center field.

I had never felt a ball leave the bat so effortlessly, but having never hit a home run before, how the heck was I supposed to know if it had the distance to clear the fence.

Two steps out of the box I could tell it had a chance, more by my teammates’ reactions from the dugout than anything else. Their reactions were justified when the earth’s gravitational pull brought the ball back to this planet on the other side of the outfield fence.

I didn’t really see how far beyond the fence the ball landed, but it doesn’t really matter because, in the world of baseball, home runs tend to gain distance with time.

So, my home run, which I was told landed on Hennepin Co. Rd. 92, will eventually land on one of the cars in the Chevy dealership on the other side of the road.

With distance, home runs tend to gain importance as well. I may have been exaggerating a tad earlier when I said the game was hanging in the balance. My two-run bomb gave Winsted a comfortable 17-0 lead. That was the final score after seven innings.

I do have some regrets from my big day. I didn’t get the baseball, and I didn’t get a home run call on the air — other than a teammate yelling “Get going!” through the humid air at the ballpark.

It would have been nice to hear Jack Buck’s “And we’ll see you tomorrow night,” “Go crazy, folks,” or “I don’t believe what I just saw,” or Phil Rizzuto’s “Here’s the windup, a fastball — hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy Cow, he did it! Sixty-one for (Kane)! Look at ‘em fight for that ball out there!” or Milo Hamilton’s “Here’s the pitch by Downing... swinging... there’s a drive into left-center field... that ball is gonna beeee... Outta here! It’s gone! It’s 7-15! There’s a new home run champion of all time... and it’s (Matt Kane)!”

You may be thinking, “Well, all those home run calls came on the biggest stages in the world at important times.” That’s just a matter of opinion, if you ask me.

MLB.com has a list of famous home runs, starting with Babe Ruth’s first May 5, 1915, off Yankee’s pitcher Jack Warhop (Ruth played for the Boston Braves then), and ending with Barry Bonds’ 715th off Colorado’s Byung-Hyun Kim May 28, 2006. Mine must be too new for the list.

Considering my age — I’m 31 — odds are against me catching anybody on the list as far as career home runs, but I would bet almost everybody who has put on a baseball uniform has his first home run taking up space in his long-term memory.

I know my first will. And I will always know Harmon Killebrew and I have something in common. I may be 762 home runs behind Killebrew, but I am one-up on Jason Tyner.

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