Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kirby Puckett, a great player gone too soon.

It’s very rare that the death of a well known personality shocks you, but Kirby Puckett’s death did indeed shock me. Even after I knew that he had suffered a major stroke and was in critical condition, I just never thought that he would not pull out of it. Kirby Puckett died yesterday at the age of 45. 45! That is way too young for a legend of the game to pass on. In fact he is the second youngest to pass on after being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame after Lou Gehrig who died at the age of 37.

I have never been a big Minnesota Twins fan, but I have always been a big fan of Kirby Puckett, whom most of my friends and I used to call “Dirty Buckett.” He played the game you wanted all the players to play. He would bunt if you needed him to bunt. He would move runners over. He would hit the game winning home run that you needed. And of course he would climb the “Hefty Bag” in center field to rob a home run. The most important thing is that Puckett always seemed to love being out there on the field. He always had a smile on his face and you always enjoyed watching him.

He was forced from the game of baseball by glaucoma far too early. He only had a 12 year playing career and in those 12 years he had over 2300 hits. If you do not know, that is a lot in a short time. He wasn’t a home run hitter, but he would hit BIG home runs when they were needed. He loaded the Twins up on his back and won two World Series. The same Twins team that baseball was trying to contract because they had no hope of competing with the rest of baseball.

Later in his retirement years there were some shocking things that came out about his personal life, a messy divorce, a court case in which he was clear of all charges involving an alleged sexual assault. In the end, I choose to remember him on the field as one of the most exciting baseball players to play in my generation, who left the game and this world far too soon.

Over the last few hours I have heard many former teammates tell their favorite stories of Puckett and I have a story of my own. It may not seem much to you, but I thought it was great. Big Kev and I went to the Final Four in Minneapolis in 2002, I believe it was. We had just flown in to Minneapolis and were going to pick up Big Kev’s luggage because he dresses by mood, you know, and couldn’t just have a carry on like me. We were walking down a ramp to get to baggage claim and I saw this beautiful woman coming up the ramp from the opposite direction. I know I had to appear like the Looney Tunes wolf, “AAAHOOOOGA!”

I was getting ready to give Big Kev a nudge or something to get his attention and then I happened to look over at the guy she was with and it was Kirby Puckett. I was then very upset because if I hadn’t been checking out his wife maybe I could have asked to shake his hand or something. We saw many legends of all kinds of sports that weekend, Bill Russell, Kirk Gibson, David Wells, but to me seeing Kirby Puckett was better than any of the others. And a memory I hope never fades.

1 comment:

BRATCH said...

I believe it was 2001. Duke, Michigan State, Stanford and Arizona.