Upbeat Killebrew pays visit to Twins camp

Upbeat Killebrew pays visit to Twins camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Standing inside the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium on Thursday morning, Harmon Killebrew was greeting Twins players with a warm smile and that same wonderful, gentlemanly demeanor that he's shown throughout so many Spring Trainings.

But this morning was certainly special for the players to catch up with Killebrew, 74, as it was the first time most of them had seen the legendary Twins slugger since he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December.

It was also a special day for Killebrew, who had been optimistic since his diagnosis that he would be able to make it down to Twins camp.

"I'm really feeling good and it's great to be in Spring Training," Killebrew said as he spoke with reporters about his recovery for the first time on Thursday morning. "It took me awhile to get down here, but [manager Ron Gardenhire] said it was OK if I reported a little bit late."

Killebrew chuckled after that statement, which was a sign of the positivity that he has kept since learning of his diagnosis. Despite the seriousness of his illness, Killebrew looked strong as he walked through the stadium. He said that he lost a lot of weight early on in the illness, but that he's been gaining a lot of it back.

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His health is doing well enough that doctors encouraged him to make the trip to Fort Myers to take part in Spring Training, Killebrew said. The Hall of Famer is also setting his sights on being at Target Field on April 8 for the Twins' home opener, and he said being around the team will be a boost for him.

"I think it's going to help me a lot," said Killebrew, who is scheduled to be in Twins camp until Sunday. "Just take your mind off the immediate problems and focus on something else. That's a good thing."

Killebrew wanted to thank everyone who has reached out to him since his diagnosis. He said that all of the cards, letters and e-mails have meant a great deal to him, and he was very thankful for the support that he's received during this time.

"When you go through something like this, you're not really sure what to expect," Killebrew said. "I think what's really been an impact on me is how many people have reached out to me.

"All the well wishes and prayers have been overwhelming and helpful. I know how much that helps. It's really helped me a lot."

Killebrew also credited his wife, Nita, with playing a vital role in his recovery. He said that his job since December has been just trying to get well.

"That's what my whole day is focused around," Killebrew said. "I couldn't have done it without my wife. She's just been a rock. Nita has been my caretaker and she's done a tremendous job of trying to get me well."

Since being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December, Killebrew said that he has been undergoing weekly treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. He said that a prognosis for his recovery won't really be known until he's done with treatments, which will likely happen in May.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen when I finish my treatments," Killebrew said. "But I'm doing well on those, I think."

Wearing his Twins uniform, Killebrew seemed eager to get back on the field with the players for their workout on Thursday morning. He said that he planned to watch the workout and to catch up with many of the players and coaches during that time.

Killebrew spoke excitedly about this 2011 Twins team, particularly the fact that many of the injured players -- like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer -- are now back on the field. He's kept in contact with Gardenhire, swapping text messages with the manager over the past few months, and when asked if he's paid attention to what's gone on in camp, he replied, "Oh, you bet."

"I think now that we've got Morneau in the lineup, that's going to be a big thing," Killebrew said. "Get Joe Mauer back in there. When you take Morneau out of the lineup, this ballclub has a very different look to it. You get him back in there swinging right, it's a whole different team."

Killebrew is equally optimistic about his own future, and right now he's certainly happy just to be back around this Twins team.

"I think that I'll get through this, take one day at a time, don't look too far down the road and try to be optimistic. I think that's a big part of this," Killebrew said. "I'm here and I'm doing well. I've got a great team of doctors, and I couldn't be happier right now [with] the way things have progressed."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.