As a kid growing up in the New York City area, it was difficult not to become a New York Yankees fan. My father would take me to Yankee Stadium and I would be in awe of how green the grass was, or how big the stadium looked from the outside. When my cousin Walt made the Major Leagues, it was an even bigger thrill to be able to rub elbows with many of the best players in the game, but still, it was a pudgy outfielder from the Minnesota Twins that always impressed me the most.
To see Puckett play was a privilege, and it was a privilege that was taken from baseball fans during the 1995 season. The man who's bat had carried the Twins to two World Series title had been diagnosed with Glaucoma, a condition that would eventually strip him of his sight in one eye.
Even though he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I always felt that Twins' fans were robbed in a way. They never got to see Puckett go out on his own terms, but instead saw their beloved slugger be forced from the game, an event that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
However, Monday was something even more hard to swallow, as one of the best right-handed hitters in the history of the game suddenly was gone at age 45. There was no time to say goodbye, and once again he was taken from Twins' fans in the blink of an eye.
Mr. Puckett is definitely in a better place now, a place where he can use both eyes to go up against greats like Walter Johnson in that big ballgame in the sky. All we are left with is the memories of his big smile, his timely hitting, and all the joy he had brought to our lives.
I am sure the Twins will wear patches on their uniforms to remember him this season, but for true fans of the game, we will never need a patch to make us remember number 34. Instead, all we have to do is go to a Little League baseball game and see a small child pick up the first hit of his career. To see the big smile on his face will always remind us of Kirby, the big kid who took a city on his back and made them a champion, both in baseball, and in life.
We here at TwinCitiesDugout.com would like to send our condolences to the Puckett family, and wish them all the best as they try to get through this difficult time. As for me, I can always look at my baseball cards and smile, knowing that somewhere, Kirby is rounding third base, smiling as he trots home. We will always miss you Kirby.