Monday, March 06, 2006

Kirby's Down

*UPDATE 7 p.m.*

Kirby Puckett has passed away at the age of 45. This is a very sad day. More on this in tomorrow's post.

I had another post written up for today, but I would be remiss not to dedicate some time and space to talking about the misfortune that has befallen one of the most popular icons in Minnesota sports history. As you are all probably aware, former Twins' outfielder and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett suffered a stroke Sunday morning at his home in Arizona. Puckett was taken to the hospital for surgery, and as I write, there is no news beyond that.

I am not going to get into any of the off-the-field accusations that have been made towards Kirby since his retirement. What I know is that while he was with this team, he was the definition of class and excellence. His .318 career batting average and 207 home runs were enough to earn him a first-ballot trip to the Hall of Fame, despite having his career shortened by an eye injury.

When I was a younger lad, my favorite book was a children's picture-book autobiography by Kirby called Be the Best You Can Be. I don't know what happened to my copy of it, and I don't remember a lot of it, but I read it all the time and really enjoyed it. Puckett had a difficult path to the Majors, being a tiny little guy raised in a poor neighborhood in Chicago. His story is inspirational, and his leaping catch and game-winning home run highlights from the 1991 World Series still give me goosebumps.

There's little I can say about the situation that hasn't been said elsewhere. Perhaps the most well-written commentary I have read was from Twins Geek on a comment thread over on Batgirl's site:

I was there for game 6, but to me, the quintessential Kirby moment wasn't on a baseball field - it was in David Letterman's studio. Kirby appeared in front of a studio audience full of Minnesotans, who poured out their love. Letterman was visibly struck, maybe slighly stunned, by the reaction to Kirby. It was like a tidal wave.

I don't mind telling you that I considered Puckett to be one of the more inspirational athletes in sports. I was proud, damn proud, that he represented Minnesota and the Twins. There are people, not just athletes, but people, that you root for because you want the world to make sense. You want the world to reward those people for their passion, their ability, their morality or their values. These are people you want to believe in because you believe in what they embody.

For me, Kirby was one of these people. Why? Let me count the ways. There was the joy he displayed while playing a game that beats players down. There was his kindness to teammates and strangers. There was his rise from poverty. There was his acknowledgement that he was one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth. And finally there was his recognition that he was a role model to kids, and needed to act like one.

The revelations a couple of years ago soiled a lot of that for a lot of us. But it also remineded us that heros are human, and gave us a new reason to root for him. Today is reminding me that heros are mortal too, and maybe we need to take the inspiration while we can.

I'm hoping, selfishly, that the inspiration lives on. My prayers are with you Kirby.

Very eloquently put. Right now, I don't care about crap like this. I care about the health and well-being of one of my childhood idols and one of the most relatable faces on that big white curtain in the Metrodome's right field stands.

While there are few details available on Kirby's condition, the things I've read have not been encouraging. I have heard the incident described as "a massive stroke," and Tom Kelly was quoted as saying, "The doctors said that if he has good luck, he'll be alright. You have to keep the faith." If he has good luck, he'll be alright? That's hardly comforting.

I can only sit here and cross my fingers that his surgery is successful and he is able to recover and come back strong. We hope for the best for Kirby and his family.