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A Hero Departs

Posted on 6th March, 2006 at 11:09pm by joel

headline image for “A Hero Departs”Photos courtesy of the StarTribune

“Fellas, get on board, I’m going to carry the load.” – Kirby Puckett, in the clubhouse before Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.

As a young boy growing up in Twins Country, no one embodied baseball for me quite like Kirby Puckett. From the smile to the high leg kick to the superhuman performances in center field, everyone with a glove, bat, and ball wanted to be Kirby. We bounced off chain-link fences trying to rob homers like he did. We kicked our knees to our chests and took gigantic swings to attempt to capture the source of his power. We hustled, we smiled, we played and played and played baseball. I only got to see him a handful of times a year—and then barely once or twice a season in person—but Dad, Andy, and I listened every day to the game on the radio and watched him in our imaginations. Kirby was baseball.

In spring training of 1996, he woke up one day and couldn’t see out of his right eye. Suddenly his 12-year career was over. For Twins fans my age, the mere idea of a baseball season without Kirby was unheard of. We’d never seen anyone else play center field or bat third for the Twins. Every day I would check box scores and league leaders in the paper to see how close he was to the top of the batting average, RBI, hits lists—but he wasn’t there any more. Something was missing from our national pastime, and he wore a huge smile and number 34. I’ll say it again, Kirby Puckett was baseball.

And now, he’s gone. Ten years ago, his career was cut short. Five years ago, he entered the Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility. And just a few short hours ago, Kirby entered heaven. If there’s any consolation, it’s that Bob Casey’s death last year means that as Puck passed through the Pearly Gates this afternoon, he did so to the sound of “In center field, number 34, Kirr-beeeeeeeeeyyyyyy Puckett!

We’ll always love you, 34.

Kirby at the StarTribune

34 FOREVER

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5 Responses to “A Hero Departs”

  1. 1joel sayeth:

    7th March, 2006 at 12:07am

    Addendum:

    Batgirl’s reaction
    Matt’s reaction

  2. 2joel sayeth:

    7th March, 2006 at 12:53am

    Addendum 2, ESPN linkage:

    Jim Caple, former St. Paul Pioneer Press Twins beat writer, including during the 1991 Championship season.
    Tim Kurkjian
    Fan reaction
    Photo gallery

  3. 3Matt sayeth:

    7th March, 2006 at 11:12am

    You should put up a link to my actual reaction. And sorry I didn’t use any of those pictures - it was too late by the time I finished.

  4. 4joel sayeth:

    7th March, 2006 at 1:53pm

    Addendum 3

    Matt’s actual reaction that he could have linked to himself ;)

  5. 5joel sayeth:

    7th March, 2006 at 2:02pm

    Addendum 4, more ESPN linkage

    Jayson Stark
    Scoop Jackson