The Right Way
By: Austin Alexander
March 7, 2006
When word of Kirby Puckett’s passing reached me late Monday, it struck a nerve as it did with baseball fans everywhere, especially my generation.
You see, Kirby Puckett was never my favorite player. I was never a Twins fan. I didn’t know him, I don’t even know someone who knew him. His homerun in Game 6 back in 1991 against Atlanta was like a dagger in the hearts of many people in the South.
Yet when I learned of his death, a part of my baseball childhood died too.
The last two days I have heard countless stories from former teammates, friends and coaches who knew Kirby well. What we saw through the TV set for twelve years was exactly who Puckett was as a person and a ballplayer.
Puckett loved baseball. He loved his team, his city and people from every walk of life. He won gold gloves in a dome where other outfielders cannot even find the baseball. He played his entire career for one team. He thrived in big games. He was champion. He didn’t walk, run or look like a Major Leaguer…but he was and he was a darn good one.
When it boils down to it, everyone was a Kirby Puckett fan. The short, squatty little lovable dude with the big smile is a player everyone liked and so we voted him into All-Star Game after All-Star Game.
I am only 31 years old. I have followed Major League Baseball and its players since I could pick up a remote control and read a newspaper. I remember when Mickey Mantle died. I recall when Joe DiMaggio passed and Ted Williams too. They were my heroes and their pictures flood my house…but I didn’t see them play.
I remember Kirby’s rookie season and collecting his first card. I witnessed his crowning moments on the diamond. I felt sorry for him when glaucoma forced his early retirement.
I saw his career come full circle and end in death this week. Puckett marks the first Hall of Famer whose entire career spanned my lifetime.
Today I’ve spoken with a few other baseball coaches that are around my age…and of course Kirby’s name came up. Each agreed, his passing is a “right of passage” for our generation.
When I first found the bad news to be fact, I called my parents. My mother answered, she had not even heard about his stroke. I told her simply, “Kirby died…” and she knew exactly who I was referring to.
Kirby Puckett played baseball the right way. He relished everyday that he was fortunate enough to play this great game. I hate that today’s young players never got to see him play, I can only hope that all the highlight reels this week will remind us and reveal to the next generation how to love baseball.
We received an email from a reader of the website who is a Minnesota-native in response to this excerpt on Puckett. To take a look at his perspective, click here.