Monday, March 06, 2006

Kirby Puckett Remembered

In October of 1991, My friend Dan Lorman and I drove to Las Vegas. I remember I had to teach him how to drive my car (a stick shift) so he could take turns with me driving. We were coming from the San Jose area to meet my Dad, step mom and her two kids. This vacation was one of, if not the last one, I took with my dad. He died a couple years later at the age of 50. I had transferrred from West Valley Junior College to Humboldt State & wound up staying there during the Summer months to make some extra money.

My father and I watched in awe as the Kirby Puckett Led Twins shocked the Atlanta Braves...widely considered the best team in baseball. I remember vividly watching as Puckett Made a great catch up against the wall earlier in the game only to hit a homer in extra innings to win the game and send the series to a decisive 7th game. My dad said to me, "you'll never see as great World Series as this one." We both enjoyed it.

Now, Kirby Puckett is dead at the age of 45. God bless you KB. God Bless your family. Thank you for the memory.

Kirby Puckett dies day after suffering stroke
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, the buoyant, barrel-shaped outfielder with the perpetual smile who led the Minnesota Twins to two World Series titles in a five-year span, died Monday at an Arizona hospital.

In his 12-year career, Puckett won six Gold Gloves, the 1989 batting title and two championship rings.

Puckett died after suffering a stroke early Sunday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 45.

He was the second-youngest person to die already a member of the Hall of Fame, Hall spokesman Jeff Idelson said. Only Lou Gehrig, at 37, was younger.

"This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball and baseball fans everywhere," team owner Carl Pohlad said.

The youngest of nine children born into poverty in a Chicago housing project, Puckett was drafted by the Twins in 1982 and became a regular just two years later. He got four hits in his first major-league start and finished with 2,304 in only 12 seasons before an eye problem cut short his career in 1996.

"That's what really hurt him bad, when he was forced out of the game," he said. "I don't know if he ever recovered from it."

Though his power numbers weren't exceptional -- 207 home runs and 1,085 RBI -- Puckett was voted into Cooperstown on the first ballot in 2001. His respect and enthusiasm for the game factored in as much as his .318 average, 1989 batting title, six Gold Gloves, 10 All-Star Game appearances and two championship rings.

He made his mark on baseball's biggest stage, leading heavy underdog Minnesota to an unlikely seven-game victory over St. Louis in 1987 and then doing the same against Atlanta in one of the most thrilling Series in history in 1991.

The Twins returned to the Metrodome that year after losing 14-5 in Game 5, needing to win two straight to get the trophy. Puckett famously walked into the clubhouse hours before Game 6, cajoling his teammates to jump on his back and let him carry them to victory.

Sure enough, after robbing Ron Gant of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch against the wall in the third inning, Puckett homered off Charlie Leibrandt in the bottom of the 11th to force Game 7.

The next night, Minnesota's Jack Morris went all 10 innings to outlast John Smoltz and pitch the Twins to a 1-0 win for their second championship in five years.

"His name just seemed to be synonymous with being a superstar. It's not supposed to happen like this," Smoltz said.

Hit by a pitch that broke his jaw on his last at-bat of the 1995 season, Puckett woke up one morning the following spring and couldn't see out of his right eye. It was eventually diagnosed as glaucoma, forcing him to call it quits that July.