Killebrew, whose best years came during 14 years with the Twins, died Tuesday of esophageal cancer at age 74. By a twist of fate, the Twins arrived in Arizona Friday for an interleague series against the Diamondbacks.
"It's almost like he knew we would be able to take part in his ceremony," said Cuddyer, who grew close to Killebrew after meeting the legend as a Twins farmhand in 1999. In his first at-bat Friday, Cuddyer hit a solo home run.
Killebrew was remembered as a gentleman of deep faith who influenced lives on and off the field, in sickness and in health, leaving behind an enduring strength of spirit to complement a legacy of 573 home runs that rank 11th all time in major league history.
Other pallbearers included former teammates Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, manager Frank Quilici, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who grew up in St. Paul and retired as a Twin.
"He meant so much to so many people and sports was just a small part of that," Cuddyer said.
Team broadcaster Bert Blyleven eulogized his former teammate, as did veteran country music crooner Charley Pride, who choked back tears as he dedicated three songs with his acoustic guitar to one of his biggest fans.
Blyleven then asked mourners to stand up and imagine Killebrew hitting his 574th home run and encouraged them to cheer as if they were watching him circle the bases one more time, drawing a cathartic round of applause along with a handful of hoots and hollers.
Killebrew will be buried Monday in his home town of Payette, Idaho.
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