|The day I met Kirby Puckett|
Batgirl’s keeping an updated entry with Star Tribune coverage, but the short version is, my childhood hero, Kirby Puckett, had a stroke yesterday morning and is in critical condition at an Arizona hospital today.
I stayed up late to watch him win the sixth game of the 1991 World Series with an 11th inning homerun. When my fifth grade class took a tour of the Metrodome, I joined in with everyone else in trying to replicate Kirby’s amazing catches at the wall in deep center field. How did he jump that high? None of us came anywhere close. My friend and I defended his honor against a bunch of drunken Brewer fans at a game in Milwaukee — they probably hated him for the weekend when he had 11 hits in two games against the Brewers. I saw one of those games too.
When it was announced that he woke up one day in spring training and saw spots out of his right eye, I was worried, but not too worried. It was Kirby, and he was invincible. Yet, as his eye got worse and the season started with him on the DL, I started saving every retrospective the Strib published. When he finally announced his retirement that July, I cried to myself in my grandmother’s bathroom. Then I watched his retirement speech on the five o’clock news where he told us not to cry for him because he had a full life and he got to play baseball — and so I didn’t anymore. But I still kept all of the newspaper articles I could get my hands on. They’re still stacked in my closet at home.
When he was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, I convinced my dad to schedule my sister’s college tour such that we could be in Cooperstown to see his induction ceremony. On that weekend, if you judged solely by the license plates of most of the cars, you would have thought that Cooperstown was in Minnesota.
Ignoring the scandals that plagued him in the early 2000’s, that was probably his legacy. Not only was he the face of the Twins, but he was the face of all Minnesota sports. When the Twins were terrible, the Vikings stunk, the North Stars moved to Texas, and the Timberwolves a brand new team just trying to win a few games, the Twin Cities could still be proud because we had Kirby Puckett, a virtual lock to start in the All-Star game every season he was out there. Every backyard ballgame, including more than a few that I played in, had a kid that wanted to be the centerfielder and hit a homerun, just like him. He was everyones hero.
We haven’t really had Kirby Puckett as a hero for a few years now, but there have been pushes to get him back into the Twins organization recently as a spring training coach or maybe more. Here’s to hoping that we still have that chance.
Edit: Farewell, Kirby.