Kirby, gone but never forgotten.


I LOVED Kirby Puckett. Which makes me just like every other 12 year old kid in the 80's who loved baseball. He personified everything that is great about baseball, and to me, he always will. No matter what.

There are many, many tributes to Kirby out there, and many more to come. I found this one particularly touching.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper's beautiful story from MSNBC's website:

Kirby Puckett remembered

I was all set to write a short tribute to Jack Wild, who died last week at 53, and to say how shocking it was that someone eternally fixed in our collective memories as a little boy could ever be in his 50s, much less ever die so young. But I hadn't quite got around to eulogizing the "Oliver!" and "H.R. Pufnstuf" star when another death came far too soon, and this one hit me even harder. Kirby Puckett, dead at 45. I know, he was an athlete, not an actor, and the sports section is already covering his loss, but this is the entertainment section, after all, and Kirby was nothing if not one of the best entertainers I ever saw.

I grew up with the Minnesota Twins, and I grew up dealing with the fact that they were awful.  I remember when local boy Kent Hrbek joined the team in the early 1980s, and Sports Illustrated put him on the cover with the headline "Best of the Worst," highlighting him as a good young player on a horrendous team. Then Kirby came by in 1984 and it was as if Central Casting had sent him over to play "most unlikely major-leaguer ever." He was a round guy, not too tall, resembling the out-of-shape fans more than he did most other professional athletes. He grew up in Chicago's projects and worked on a Ford assembly line before playing pro baseball. How down-to-earth is that?

It is impossible to picture Kirby -- which is what every Minnesotan called him, no disrespect intended -- without picturing him smiling. He had seen poverty and real hard work, and he knew how glorious it was to be able to play his favorite game for a living. Every kid in the state loved him, and he seemed to love them back. We all knew someone with a dog, a cat, a hamster, a goldfish named Kirby. Kids honored him with the greatest thing they could, gifting his name to a family member, and he respected that honor by never giving up.

The Twins won the World Series in 1987, and in 1991, looked to be headed there again. I was a broke just-out-of college kid still living at home, but when it was announced that the team would be having a lottery for tickets, I took a chance. And unbelievably, for someone who's never been lucky in her life, I won tickets. And that's how my dear friend Ann and I were sitting in the stands at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for all of the Twins home Series games, including the marvelous, the impossible, the legendary Game 6. Oct. 26, 1991.

Baseball legend has it that, before the game, Kirby walked through the Twins' locker room and literally said "Jump on my back, boys, I'll carry you." It's not bragging if you can back it up. Which he went right out there and did. First, he soared up against the wall in the third inning to rob Atlanta Brave Ron Gant of a multi-base hit. The game went into extra innings. Ann and I buried our faces in our hands, destroyed our fingernails, hid behind our hair. The eleventh inning. Game six of the World Series. No matter how many times you see something like it on TV, you can't feel the adrenaline, can't share in the mass agony and hope and hysteria that swirls around you like the small of stale beer. And then Kirby was at bat, and all of Minnesota's gossamer hopes went with him.

From the minute he swung that bat, the ball was gone. The Star Tribune reported that the following ovation went on for ten solid minutes, but it seemed much longer to me. Minnesotans are reticent folks, calm and quiet and not given to hysteria. That Dome, that night, took all those stereotypes and smashed them, smashed them over the wall and into pulp smaller than snowflakes. Kirby was mobbed at home plate by his teammates and in the stands, complete strangers hugged and kissed and jumped and screamed. The Twins won the World Series the next night, but like the 1980 Olympic hockey game against the Russians, it was the second-to-the-last game that lives on forever, a pristine, golden memory, a "do you believe in miracles?" moment.

Kirby's life started out difficult and it ended that way. Glaucoma drove him out of the game early, he and his wife divorced, he was found not guilty of some ugly charges when a woman claimed he grabbed her at a local restaurant. But he will be remembered not for that, but for his magical smile, that positive attitude, for how he retired from the game with utter and complete grace, saying "Tomorrow's never promised."

It wasn't promised to my friend Ann, either. My World Series seatmate died four years after we laughed and cried and danced in the streets around the Dome together. Out of nowhere, she suffered a pulmonary embolism at just 28. Tomorrow wasn't promised her, either.

It's not baseball season yet, and I'm more than a thousand miles from Minnesota. I haven't seen my friend Ann in ten years, and never will see her again in this life. But I'm thinking back to that fall week, 15 years ago. I'm thinking back to whatever fateful twist directed some unseen Twins' employee's hand to pluck my name at random to win a chance to buy World Series tickets. In my mind I'm seeing that ball soar, and hearing that ovation that rang out as if it would never, ever end. And I'm thinking back to not just Kirby, but to Jack Wild again, and his show's theme song's opening lyric now stuck in my mind: "Once upon a summertime, just a dream from yesterday."

1 comment :

Proudly designed by | mlekoshiPlayground |