my Kirby memories
As I told A-Hoff in an email, I think Kirby was the first player who's whole career I can remember. I didn't really start following the Twins in earnest 'til 1984, when I was 11. I can remember the first night he came up, actually - a late night game in California. It was exciting the next day to find out he had four hits.
It's easy to forget now, but all we ever used to think about Kirby for was bunting. He bunted like crazy to get on base those first couple years, as he was very fast. Then it was amazing to watch his power grow from 4 to 31 homers in 1986.
A distinct memory I have is being at my Grandma & Grandpa Kruschke's, on the last Sunday of the regular season in 1985. I knew how big a deal 200 hits was, and all I hoped for that day was that he would get it. But he finished with 199, and I was bummed.
I remember taping the 1986 All-Star game, in Houston, and how I told Dad I had to go inside NOW bc Puckett was leading off against Dwight Gooden. And he got a hit up the middle, in those powder blues.
Aside from playoffs and World Series, I also remember the day in summer of '87, the weekend series in Milwaukee, the day Puckett went 6-for-6. I was running around, doing whatever, but remember getting excited when Puckett got his 4th hit, still fairly early in the game. Then, I was super excited when he went 5-for-5! Just hoping he'd get a 6th at-bat to get a chance at it, it was elation when he smoked a line drive homer to right. The guy was on fire like nothing I had ever seen. I was just running around the house excited, full of nervous energy, after that.
I'm not sure what year it happened, but somewhere in here, I traded my Walter Payton rookie card to Jeff Trost for what I thought was the coolest card ever - Puckett's 1984 Fleer-Update rookie card. Maybe not a good deal, value-wise today, but I loved making the trade for that card.
I can also remember being really mad the year Dennis Eckersley beat out Puckett for AL MVP - I think it was 1988, when Puckett hit .356. I hated Eckersley with a passion ever since.
As we played a lot of Nerf baseball in the basement, and plenty of pick-up ball, we would always do Puck's "sign of the cross" when we came to bat, which we thought was really cool. Throw in his big leg kick, his flip of the bat, and how he always robbed an unbelievable proportion of home run balls over that center field fence (I always wondered - how does he even get this many chances??), and we just emulated him all over the place.
When you went to a game, you kind of lived for when Kirby came up, and Bob Casey's announcement. People loved him like no other, especially the kids.
Speaking of people who love Kirby, nobody comes more to mind than my friend, the Rat (Corey Schmid). Rat always said Kirby Puckett was the best, because he always hustled. Simple as that. He was never too "big league" to hustle. Rat even named his first-born after Kirby. That's pretty much the ultimate compliment.
It also reminds me of a great Rat story, while I'm at it: we're at the Upper Deck sports bar, a softball complex in Sartell, and into the beer pretty good at this point. We were doing recreations of famous homeruns, and Rat did his Kirby. So Rat takes his swing, then starts going around "first" in the bar, pumping his fist and celebrating the homer. But when he rounded first and pumped that fist, he knocked out a low-hanging light. After just a moment's pause, Rat finished out the home run trot and keep pumping his fist all the way. It was funnier than hell.
I've also always been very proud to have been in the building for Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Nosebleed seats, but when he hit that game-ending home run, I swear everybody in the place just stood and yelled at the top of their lungs for 10 minutes. That was as good as it gets.
I just kind of realized now, how I was always going to have Puck sign my Game 6 ticket stub at a Twinsfest, but the lines were too long. I figured I’d wait til some year in the future when the lines went down some. Well, they never really went down, and I never got his autograph. But that's okay. I think I have taken plenty from Puckett over the years.