March 06, 2006
The Day Our Hero Died
Monday March 6, 2006. The cruel Chicago wind wasn't my only greeting walking out of the house. I stared at the cold black newsprint stating Kirby Puckett was in critical condition after suffering a stroke. The reality of the message took a few moments to sink in...
Puck doesn't lose this way, does he?
A day of uneasy speculation unfolded, refreshing webpages compulsively looking for reassurance that Kirby would deliver his late inning heroics once again. The prospect that the world would wake Tuesday without our beloved Puck refused to burrow its way into my consciousness.
Couldn't he jump on his own back in this time of need just as he prophetically told his teammates to do before rescuing the 1991 World Series? For someone who overcame long odds ever since emerging from Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes as a 5'8'' dynamo with a heart as big as his smile, what was one last wall to scale? Unfortunately, this hurdle proved too high for the portly Puck to surmount.
The consummate teammate played the game he loved with a contagious enthusiasm, infecting all lucky enough to cross his path. A rare breed in this primadonna age of sports, Kirby affected games with his bat, glove and clubhouse zeal while winning everyone over with his signature charismatic charm. Even during the dark days that followed his retirement, it seemed inevitable Puck would find the light and make things right, like busting out of a rare batting slump.
The day the Twins retired #34, Kirby echoed the historic words of Lou Gehrig, declaring on that day to be the luckiest man on the planet. Those same exuberant words personifying Kirby's magnetic aura have a haunting effect now that he follows The Iron Horse as the second youngest player to die already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Losing the athlete who captured my imagination as a child and inspired my athletic ambitions has left me a blubbering mess several times in the wake of the news. His impact will long be remembered and his legacy preserved by those touched by Puck's joie de vivre.
The roly-poly wunderkind waxed poetic from time to time, bestowing life lessons that defined the way he played and conducted himself. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech, "It doesn't matter what your height is, it's what's in your heart." His legacy and spirit will carry on.
We're all luckier to have jumped on his back for the ride. We'll miss you #34. You were our hero.