I've been a baseball fan all my life. As a kid, baseball was still king of all American sports. That's changed now, but I haven't. Give me a middle-of-the-season Minnesota Twins game when they have no chance to make any sort of post-season play, and yes...I'll take that over a college or NFL football game any day of the week.

And as a die hard Twins fan for well over a half-century, I've always hated the dreaded New York Yankees. I know, I know, 'hate' is such a strong word, but I use it in the gentler sports sense.

I'm a Yankee hater.

They are the most historic franchise in baseball, and arguably all sports. They won a zillion World Series titles and claim the biggest names in sports history, names like Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle and more.

And they always beat my Twins. Well, maybe not always, but it sure seems like it.

And so, I hate the Yankees.

And I loved Thurman Munson.

I know, how can I hate the team and love one of the greatest Yankees of my lifetime?

Because Thurman was true and loyal to the game. Call him gritty, call him hard-nosed but also call him a man who played the game the right way. I suppose at those times prior to his death I thought I hated him because...well, he was a Yankee! But much like Derek Jeter, while I wanted those dreaded Yankees to go down in flames while my Twins reigned triumphant (which rarely happened), I really admired the player.

It was August 2nd, 1979 when it happened. Yankee catcher Thurman Munson was tragically killed in the crash of a small plane. Wikipedia reports it this way:

Munson had been flying for over a year and purchased a Cessna Citation  jet so he could fly home to his family in Canton on off-days. On the afternoon of Thursday, August 2, 1979, he was practicing takeoffs and landings at theAkron-Canton Regional Airport with friend Jerry Anderson and flight instructor Dave Hall.Shortly after 3:40 pm, Munson had received clearance for takeoff and three touch-and-go landings on runway 23, which were completed.

While on approach for the fourth and final landing on a different runway (19), Munson did not extend the flaps and allowed the aircraft to sink too low before increasing engine power, causing the jet to clip a tree and fall short of the runway. The plane then hit a tree stump and burst into flames, on Greensburg Road, 870 feet (265 m) short of runway 19

And ironically, the saddest day I remember in my baseball loving life involved one of those hated New York Yankees.

With age comes the maturity of being able to recognize that one can dislike a team (lets stop saying hate, it's an ugly word) and admire a player. I was able to do that during Jeter's playing career, but it took the tragedy of Thurman Munson's death to make me realize it all those years ago. I regret that.

Thurman Munson was not the greatest player in the storied history of the New York Yankees. He wasn't even the best catcher. But on this, the anniversary of his death, I miss Number 15 behind the plate.

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