Ask almost any Minnesotan - or any baseball fan - the significance of number 34 and they will immediately say, "Kirby Puckett, of course".
I just finished getting Sweet Girl ready for bed a few minutes ago and brought her out to the living room for Daddy to tuck her in and say her prayers with her. When we walked into the living room, he pointed to the T.V. "Look" was all he said. And there was a picture who was arguably one of the greatest outfielders to crawl the wall. "Kirby Puckett, 1961-2006" was the caption. He was only 4 years older than me.
I heard this morning that Kirby had a stroke, but like all public figures, you think "oh, he'll pull through". Only he didn't - and it is a sad day for Minnesota. I am sure Naked Girl will have a great awareness of this, seeing as her hubby is a sports writer for the local newspaper here. If you haven't lived in Minnesota for your life, though, you may not understand why this is so sad.
The Twins made it to the World Series the year I was born; 1965. Though they tried, they didn't make it again until 1987. I can still remember the frenzy our city was in and how much we loved our players. The season went from lackluster to everyone wearing pins, carrying key chains and waving their required game element, The Homer Hanky (we even waved them at our T.V.s).
Puckett, Herbeck, Viola... They were our boys of summer and we loved them. Then in 1991 when they won the series again, the Twins became written forever in the hearts of Minnesotans - even those of us who are fair weather sports fans. But of all of those winning players, it was mostly Puckett and Herbeck who made it into our hearts. They played their entire careers with the Twins, making them our guys. Hey, Herbeck has an outdoor show now that I watch every now and again - and I don't fish or hunt! But of the two, I really enjoyed Kirby Puckett. Yes, Kirby did have problems after he retired, but that isn't what I will remember. I will remember the player.
Who can forget watching that short little guy run to the back of the field and make the most amazing catches, bent backward over the top of the fence? I swear that man had springs in his shoes! I think he was better than Michael Jordan. I mean, think about it - he jumped twice as high to catch a 5 inch ball moving at better than 60 mph! Every time he came out to bat, the announcer would draw his name out for 10-15 seconds... "Kirrrrbbbbyyyy Puuuuuuuuuuuuuckett!"
When the Twins won in 87, I was working as a temporary receptionist downtown. The day after they won, the city threw a ticker tape parade. I went out over my lunch hour and stood in the middle of the street. When the cars bearing the players came through, the police split the crowd down the middle; so I got to be right in front of every convertible as it passed by with the players and their wives sitting on the back ledges. If I had been any closer, my toes would have been run over. I shook hands with most of the players. My one hour lunch turned into a two hour lunch, but no one at work even cared. They were just jealous they weren't where I was! What a memory!
We're moving to Illinois next summer where the family roots for the Cubs, Sox and, even more so, the St. Louis Cardinals. Cubs and Sox I can handle, but the Cards are the fallen, as far as I am concerned, for Ozzie Smith could not outmaneuver Kirby and they could not win the trophy. I have already told Champs that when we move, I will gladly root for the Fighting Illini, since the Golden Gophers haven't meant a lot to me. I will watch the Bears or whatever team they want to win because, well, let's face it: The Vikings are a bit of an embarrassment. But I will never, EVER root for any other team than the Minnesota Twins. You can take the girl out of Minnesota, but you can't take the memory of the magic out of the girl.
Rest in peace, Kirby. You made baseball matter to me. Thank you.
Here's come comments from this post:
I've not lived in Minnesota but as a baseball fan I get it. I had heard Kirby was in critical condition earlier in the day, but gosh was I shocked to see that same caption. I can't believe he died. It seems rather surreal - such a young guy, an athlete at that - gone.
Although Don doesn't cover baseball, he's very aware of the icon status Kirby has here. I'm an Indians fan, but I loved Kirby's smile and obvious love for the game.
i did not understand. not a baseball fan, not a Minnesotan, not anything. But the way you wrote this made me sad, just because of your experiences.
Lightning Bug's Butt said...
A fine rememberance.