While this blog is a dual effort between two people, generally an entire post on a typical day is delegated totally to one person. However, on a somber day such as this, we felt we both should say a few words in honor of Kirby Puckett, one of the greatest Minnesota Twins of all time, who passed away all too soon yesterday.
This has to be the most difficult post I've ever had to sit down and do. Normally, it is really exciting to write about baseball, but it's hard to write when the very reason you love something has left. With Kirby's passing, I have felt personally and seen, in looking around the Twins blogsphere and listening to KFAN, just how much Kirby meant to the community in the Upper Midwest and to baseball fans everywhere.
It's hard to really think of a way to memorialize such a guy. When you look at a game like baseball, it's easy to see it like that: just a game. But this event has struck me in such a way the I liken it to Field of Dreams. For anyone who thinks it's just a game, they probably weren't struck by it, but the beauty of that movie was in the small but momental relationships constructed in baseball. It's something we share. Kevin Costner in the movie, as he discovers, has two heroes: Shoeless Joe Jackson and his father. For me, I think that's the best metaphor I can make. (Of course, the parallel is that Jackson was a great player in his time, but is immortalized for gambling, same as Puckett is racked by the accusations of 2002.)
When I grew up, my two idols were my father and Kirby Puckett. Everything else is kinda blurry when it comes to baseball. I liked Kent Hrbek, Shane Mack, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, and the others as much as anyone else, but like a lot of other people, I loved Kirby Puckett. Its simple, really. The man embodied everything we love about baseball and life. He brought joy and passion daily and he ran out every play. He never gave up and neither did we. No one who has seen it can ever forget what he did October 26, 1991. His catch of Ron Gant's flyball and his homer in the 11th brought the Twins to Game 7.
As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to make those same catches as Kirby at the wall. I wanted all the cards I could have of him. Seeing him pass is harder than I could have imagined, but it shows me how much he has meant to me. I love baseball now because of Kirby. The real reason I went to games and watched them as a kid was Kirby and when he retired, I didn't pay attention to baseball for a long time.
When considering his age, being only 45, its all the more crushing. One man who you can easily draw a parallel to is Lou Gehrig. Gehrig died at age 37 in 1941 after he was forced to retire. He, of course, had Lou Gehrig's Disease. Gehrig and Puckett are the two youngest Hall of Famers to pass away. I see the bigger relation being how the fans reacted. New Yorkers loved Gehrig. Like Puckett, when he had to retire, he did so as graciously as he had when he played. Puckett, it so happens, mentioned the "Ironman" when he return to the Metrodome in 1997. And its just as well to compare them, since Gehrig embodies New York baseball (at least as much as Ruth) just as Kirby does for us Minnesotans.
If there is any way to remember Kirby, it's for his smile. For the love of life and baseball that he always showed. Whatever happened the last few years, it's passed and it doesn't matter. What matters is the lasting impact he's had on all of us. Kirby is someone I'll never forget and when I think of him, I'll remember him for what he did in '87 and '91 and the class he showed when he had to retire.
RIP Kirby. God bless you for all you did for baseball and for all of Minnesota!
Mr. Mosvick's tribute did a pretty good job of summarizing my feelings about Puckett. There are really touching tributes to be found on several other Twins blogs as well, such as Batgirl and Seth Speaks, but I thought I would just say a few more words about the man.
I already said several things regarding my feelings about Kirby Puckett in Monday's post. While I had my fingers crossed all along the Kirby would pull through, I had a bad feeling about the situation. Even though no one had been saying anything specific, the quotes I had read from people close to the situation were not at all encouraging.
Therefore, I wasn't surprised when I learned that Kirby had passed away Monday afternoon. Still, I was tremendously saddened.
I think the point at which I truly realized the magnitude of losing Kirby yesterday was when I was listening to The Sludge and Lake Show on KFAN radio last night, and they had an open forum for people to call in and tell their Kirby stories and memories. With just about every person who called, you could tell by the sound of their voice that they had been crying; many were choking up even as they spoke on the air. It was touching to realize just how important Kirby had been in the lives of so many people from all different walks of life.
For people in my age range, Puck was the quintessential sports hero as we grew up. It is interesting that I hadn't really thought about the man for a while, as his lack of involvement with the team and his absence from the public spotlight in recent years have kind of pushed him out my mind. However, now that he's gone, all of my great memories of watching him play and hearing Bob Casey give his signature introduction ("Number 34, the center-fielder Kirbyyyyyyy Puckett!") have come rushing back. Kirby was Twins baseball as I grew up and became a die-hard fan. I wish the best to his family and friends. He will be missed tremendously.