Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Good Bye, Kirby Puckett, and Thank You

Minnesota is a wonderful place to live, and it was my priviledge to live there eighteen years. Clean, family oriented, church going, honest, real salt of the earth type people. Onto this landscape strode a little sparkplug of a man who cast a giant shadow on the Minnesota sports world. Kirby Puckett, born in Chicago, was Minnesota's perfect hero.

Called to the Twins in 1984, Puckett gave Minnesota something the cheer for when there was little else. The Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers were going nowhere. The Twins hadn't made noise since they won the Pennant in 1961 (and I hated that. To have the baseball team stolen from Washington and win a championship in their first year of their new city). Always optimistic, always with a beaming smile to go with his cannon of an arm, Puckett could and did field a ball in center field and throw someone out at home plate. With that went his ability to uncoil a long home run at the right time. His natural ability, unadorned by steroids, was only exceeded by his colossal enthusiasm.

Kirby Puckett was not just the best player on the Minnesota Twins. Puckett was the Minnesota Twins. He led the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. It was my priviledge to see him play. I still have my Homer Hanky among my sports memorabilia. More than that, I have the impression of Puckett lifting his team past a storied rivalry with the Oakland As to get to the playoffs and lifting the spirits of Minnesota along the way. The Metrodome, the noise (89 decibels rivaling anything I heard at old RFK), the wins, the Twins. "At bat, KIRRRRR-BEEEEEEEE PUCKETT." Greatness was his mantle and championships were his thrones. The Twins World Series games were perfect excuses to socialize with customers. My customer declined most of my invitations. It got to the point where I stopped asking. But they did not turn down tickets to see the Twins in '87.

Puckett's career ended prematurely due to glaucoma, of all things. His private live was in turmoil, most of it not reported until after I left the area. He sought refuge in Phoenix, Arizona, for his health and for a new start. He was struck down by a stroke on Monday, March 6, 2006. Now, no one remembers the messy divorce, the girl friend, the questionable charge of assault (for which he was acquitted). They only remember the smile.

Thank you, Kirby.

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