As others have noted, Kirby Puckett would have turned 51 today. I was born in 1981, and grew up at the time that, perhaps, almost perfectly coincided with Puckett's career in Minnesota. Although I was an adult and living on my own when Kirby died, and although he had long since retired and been elected to the Hall of Fame, his death was one of those "growing up" moments; one of those events that further separated my youth from adulthood.
I don't intend to break any ground with today's post, and I can't sit here and pretend that I have vivid memories of of the 1987 World Series, although I certainly remember the aftermath, including the Wheaties box that I still have in mint condition (sans Wheaties), and the parade that was broadcast on television at school.
Although my memory fails me with respect to most of 1987, what that World Series did for kids in Minnesota was to propel Puckett to superstardom. I was 10 when the Twins won again in 1991, and attended one of the ALCS games against the Blue Jays (aside: I was so sick when it came time for the game that I missed school that day, but my parents thankfully allowed me to go to the game). For those that were too young for the 1987 World Series, well, the 1991 Series really cemented Puckett's status as a hero for the ages.
Today, on Kirby's birthday, I thought I would share just a few short non-World Series memories that brought a smile to my face this morning as I was thinking about one of my childhood heroes.
1. Kirby sometimes wore loud sweaters. I recall press conferences, photos, and clips from his celebrity billiards tournament where he was sporting, shall we say, vibrant, Bill Cosby-esque sweaters.
2. Growing up, 34 was always the first choice when it came time to choose jersey numbers. Not only that, but it didn't matter what sport it was. Kirby transcended baseball, at least with respect to his jersey number.
3. As I just alluded to, Puckett hosted an annual celebrity billiards tournament. He used to get quite a showing from great athletes, including my other baseball hero, Cal Ripken, Jr. The tournament benefited pediatric heart research. The Twins are, and have always been, very good with respect to charitable causes and taking active roles in the community. I can state with pretty firm conviction that they do a better job with charitable work than most other teams. Kirby certainly set the standard for charitable work, something that has since become almost a prerequisite to becoming a Minnesota Twin.
4. I have to end with an on-the-field accomplishment, and this one I actually do remember: Weekend series in Milwaukee, August, 1987, Kirby goes 10-11, 4 HRs, 6 RBIs, 7 runs. And to think - he could have had more RBIs if people actually had been on base in front of him (I'm looking at you Greg Gagne, Randy Bush and Al Newman, a collective 6 for 29 with a walk that series).
Happy Birthday, #34.