The Spirit of Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett died yesterday. If you weren’t a baseball fan, or someone that followed American sports, that news may not mean much to you. But Kirby Puckett was special; one of the most beloved baseball players of his generation.

Truly, it’s hard to imagine a player that was more liked than Kirby was during a playing career that spanned from 1984 until 1995. He played that entire time for the Minnesota Twins, becoming without a doubt their most popular player ever. If Kirby had played in a larger media market such as New York or Los Angeles, he would have been king of that city as well. No matter where he played, everybody liked and respected the man.

Kirby Puckett was a top-notch player that made the all-star team ten consecutive times. It’s likely that he would have kept playing at that high caliber for several more years had glaucoma not forced him into early retirement at the age of 35. Only five-foot eight-inches tall, and shaped more like a bowling ball with the legs than a typically svelte athlete, Kirby defied all sorts of odds to become a Hall of Fame player. Growing up in a desperately poor south Chicago ghetto certainly gave him incentive to find a way out. And for him, professional baseball was that ticket. As great a player as Kirby Puckett became, his massive popularity stemmed more from how he played the game and communicated with his fans. The man always had a smile on his face and a playful way of conversing with people. And when he was on the field he played each game with a zeal and intensity that made most other players look like wax dummies. Win or lose, Kirby radiated a positive vibe and had an effervescent nature that baseball fans embraced.

Perhaps Kirby Puckett is best remembered for his outstanding performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta. Kirby made an awesome catch, leaping high against the center field fence in the third inning to rob Ron Gant of a home run. After that Kirby drove in a few runs of his own and then later popped the game-ending home run in the eleventh inning. That win forced a seventh game, the famous ten-inning 1-0 duel in which Jack Morris outlasted Atlanta’s John Smoltz to give Minnesota the World Series championship. I was at those two amazing games, sitting in the right field seats of the Metrodome in Minneapolis with my friends Jay and Sam. That building was rocking and reeling those two nights; reverberating with the ecstatic whoops of Twins fans. And when Kirby hit that home run to win game six, the triumphant noise from the crowd was absolutely deafening. Without a doubt, that was my most memorable moment as a sports fan.

Like his playing career, the life of Kirby Puckett was much too short. He died at the age of 45. As I was reading the many online tributes and remembrances to Kirby yesterday, I couldn’t help shedding a few tears. The man truly was an inspiration to millions of people, athletes and non-athletes alike.

There will be a memorial service for Kirby Puckett this Sunday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Admission is free. There will be lots of tears and lots of smiles, and you can be sure of one more thing: the joint will be jumping again, fueled by the spirit of the one and only Kirby Puckett.

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