It's rare that I cry over sports. In fact, I only really cried once. For those who assumed I cried when watching my beloved Red Sox when the series, you'd be incorrect. I cheered until I went hoarse and then proceeded to drink a few celebratory beers (one too many, I found), but I didn't cry.
I grew up an oddball Sox fan. Not really sure why, but I liked Wade Boggs, Clemens and Dewey Evans--really ballers. But I also had a sweet spot for a 5'8" righty out of Minnesota named Kirby. In fact, he was my favorite. He was a tank, but he was fast as hell and had a bat that rivaled some of the greatest. He batted for power and average and was as lovable as any player in the game. I was hooked.
I followed him for a few years--checking the box scores, watching his average and RBIs on a weekly basis. I collected the baseball cards, hunted an autograph. In fact, we travelled to see Arlington to see Kirby's Twins face the Rangers on one occasion. I didn't get an autograph, but I got a clear photo of his back in the on-deck circle. It was enough for me. Kirby was my man.
Well, in 1991, the lowly Minnesota Twins went from last place in 1990 to the World Series where they faced the Braves (the Buffalo Bills of baseball). In that series, the Twins had homefield advantage. They won the first two, lost the middle three on the road and in game six, Kirby made me a fan for life--no matter what controversy he would see off the field.
In the 11th inning, Kirby came up with a chance to force a seventh game. And he did.
I watched in my room on the edge of my bed with my eyes peeled to the tiny TV screen sitting on top of my dresser. It was late, the house was quiet, everyone sleeping. Except for me and Kirby. He steps in and, as memory serves, he took about four pitches before absolutely DRILLING this pitch into a sea of Homer Hankies. When it left the bat, I knew he got it hard, but thought it would stay in play. The ball kept going and going and barely cleared the left field plexi.
As Kirby rounded first, pumping his fists and exhuberantly yelling in victory, I jumped to my feet, clapped my hands and danced. I laughed until I cried. Now, that laughter didn't trigger the tears, the tears just came. I was in awe. Possessed. At that moment, sports took on a much larger meaning. They became a part of me. And baseball, as boring as the game sometimes can be, became my sport of preference. Because of Kirby.
Here, at fourteen years old, this small goofy baller changed me for life. I'll never forget that moment in time.
Well, today, it hit home because after a stroke just yesterday, Kirby passed at 45 years old. He was a hall of famer. A career .318 hitter and one of the best centerfielders I've ever lived to see play and it was a honor that I'll never forget. I caught wind before Timbo and I were heading out for a birthday beer. Sadness overcame me. Yeah, I know, it's just sports, j3. Don't get hung up--it's not like you knew him personally. I'll tell myself all of these things, but hearing of his passing was like losing a friend from grade school. He represents that era in my life where things were pure. When centerfielders hit and hussled like hell was on their heels. When athletes played for one team until they retired. When you didn't have to be 6'2" and 260 pounds of muscle to be the best player in the game.
Kirby Puckett, there'll never be another like you.