Seven years ago today, one of the greatest ballplayers to wear a Twins uniform died at the age of 45. As a child growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the obvious hero was Kirby Puckett. He played with a smile on his face, came up with big hits, made spectacular plays in the field, and was the face the two World Series championships in Minnesota. It was a shame Kirby was forced to retire at the young age of 35 due to any eye injury, and an even bigger shame that we lost him just over 10 years later.
I grew up with four brothers, and the four of us along with some of our cousins and uncles would play baseball at family gatherings. I remember wanting to “be” Kirby Puckett, and imitating his big leg kick at the plate. I remember pretending to run back on fly balls and leap at the fence (the line of trees in our yard) to rob home runs, all the while making the sound of the fans going crazy in the background. Puckett was an inspiring super hero to a kid like me, who didn’t care so much for Superman, Batman, or GI-Joe.
I can even recall being glued to the local news every night one winter, which must have been the winter after the 1992 season, hoping for the news of Puckett’s contract extension. As a 9 year old, I was willing to put up my own cash to help keep Kirby in Minnesota. Even though I probably only had $26 to my name at that age, I would have dropped in the mail immediately if I knew where to send it.
The night in 1995 when he was hit by a pitch, not for a second did I think that would be his last at-bat. As the weeks and months went by, and it sunk in that his career was over, I was crushed. There weren’t too many other things in my life that had hurt as bad as it did when I came to the realization that Kirby wouldn’t play baseball again.
In twelve years with the Twins, Kirby Puckett hit .318 with 207 home runs, 1071 runs, 1085 RBI’s, 414 doubles, and 2304 hits. He won two World Series championships, made 10 All-Star Game appearances, won 6 Gold Glove Awards and 6 Silver Slugger Awards. He carried the team on his back to one of the most famous World Series victories in Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves in 1991. His number 34 was retired by the Twins, he’s a member of the Twins Hall of Fame, as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame. To many Twins fans, he is the most recognizable Twins player of all time. More impressively, Kirby Puckett is quite possibly most fans’ favorite player of all time.
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