“Everybody loved Kirby.” Those who know me usually also know that I am a life-long Minnesota Twins fan. I’ve never been able to explain exactly why since I grew up in the New York suburbs, with the most likely explanation of just wanting to be different from my older brothers and father who were and continue to be diehard Yankees fans. And while I didn’t mind rooting for the Bronx Bombers, the Giants or Jets in football, and the Rangers in hockey, I made my stand by choosing the Vikings (with those great purple uniforms and Fran Tarkenton), the Blackhawks (with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita), and the relocated Washington Senators who morphed into the Minnesota Twins in the early 1960’s.
Of all the great players in the history of the franchise (Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Jim Kaat, Bert Blyleven, etc.), the greatest Twin of them all was Kirby Puckett. Before his amazing career was cut short by glaucoma in 1996 after 12 years with the only team he ever played for, this butterball-shaped baseball dynamo with one of the most infectious smiles you’ve ever seen made 10 consecutive all-star teams, won six Gold Glove Awards, and led his team to two World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 on the first ballot, he became the third youngest player ever voted in.
Kirby Puckett died of a stroke on Monday at the age of 45. He was missed when he suddenly had to retire 10 years ago, but this sense of shock and loss goes much deeper. The only thing comparable is the death of John Lennon (almost). We can say it’s just sports, but when you give your heart and soul rooting for a team over four decades and its most essential player ever suddenly passes away, it’s really all quite sad. I am grateful to have met Kirby when the Twins used to still have their Spring Training in Orlando in the late 1980’s, and feel fortunate to have been a Twins fan during those incredible times. Kirby was the man–may he rest in peace.
It has always been my intention to keep my blogging on this site film-oriented, but every once in a while real life intervenes and I may just have to write about it. Pardon my indulgence, and GO TWINS!