Herald Journal Columns
March 13, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Puckett ‘touched ‘em all’

By Matt Kane

Kirby Puckett was supposed to turn 46 years old this week. But instead of celebrating the four-plus decades of life with their dad Tuesday, Kirby Puckett, Jr. and his sister, Catherine, were mourning his death.

It is Puckett’s two kids who will carry on his name and legacy, but the kid in all of us comes out when thinking about Kirby.

Just mention his first name and thoughts of Kirby pumping his fist after his 11th-inning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series spring to the forefront of any Midwesterner’s mind.

Stacked behind that memory are thousands more waiting their turn to be shared.

Open the morning newspaper, tune in any of the local sports talk radio stations, flip on the evening news, or log on to any local medium’s web site, and there are countless stories about personal run-ins and secondhand accounts about the man, who patrolled center field in the Metrodome and in our hearts.

Accounts of Puckett’s recent legal problems also arise, but they are easily drowned out by the number of laughs that accompany tales of random meetings at supermarkets, car washes, bait shops, and wherever else people go.

As for feats on the baseball field, the Game 6 home run and the leaping catch in the third inning of the same game are remembered most, but, maybe more responsible for carrying Puckett to the royalty level he rose up to in Minnesota, was that smile.

“He’s given Minnesota so many magical moments. But I think it’s his smile more than anything else that will always be in everybody’s memory,” former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson said.

As a memorabilia collector and autograph seeker, I have had the privilege of sharing a few words with Puckett. Nothing more than a “What’s up,” or “How ya’ doin’,” but he always looked you in the eye when he said it.

My first meeting with Kirby took place 20 years ago this May. Because of a letter I wrote to my personal idol, Kent Hrbek, I was invited to stand on the field during the Twins’ batting practice. One by one, players would stop by our roped in area to chat with my small group and sign autographs. Nothing sticks out about Puckett’s visit that day, just his bright-eyed baby face and that he was a fast talker.

That experience with the Minnesota Twins was the hook I bit and they still catch my attention more than any other team.

I am fortunate to be the age where Puckett was in his prime as I was developing my love for the game of baseball. He, undoubtedly, had something to do with it. And I’ve shared with him, in person, some of his most memorable and forgettable moments.

Starting with the latter, I will never forget the feeling inside the Metrodome when a Dennis Martinez pitch struck Puckett in the cheek during the last home stand of the 1995 season. In a place that includes a decibel meter, the eerie sound of silence was the most deafening thing I had heard in a decade of visiting the Metrodome.

I was also in attendance for his retirement ceremony and I made the trip to sunny Cooperstown, N.Y. in the summer of 2001 for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I wonder if, when Puckett got to the pearly gates Monday, standing next to St. Peter was legendary Twins public address announcer, the late Bob Casey.

I can hear it now, Casey breaking the anticipation of the soulful audience by picking up the microphone and raising his voice with the introduction, “The center fielder, number 34, Kirbeeeeee Puckett,” with a Boeing 747-decibel reaction echoing through the Metrodome of the heavens.

The weather reports Tuesday night told of some thunderstorms sweeping across southern Minnesota. Was it thunder, or God applauding?

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