It is probably odd to get all sentimental about a man I'd never met, and who I'd only seen outside of the confines of the Metrodome once. It is odd that something like the death of Kirby Puckett would affect me at all, since his memory has been tarnished in recent years by indiscretions and allegations that, though unproven, somehow still weigh down on my mind.
I guess it's just that Kirby was an important part of my development as a person. Not integral like peers or parents, but at least somewhere outside of that, somewhere floating on the periphery. I was 7 years old when the Twins won their first World Series. I barely remember it, but that same year I remember writing one of the first short stories I ever wrote about the Twins playing a Japanese team (did that ever happen?) and Kirby hitting a home run in the game. Maybe it wasn't a short story, maybe it was just an article about the game. No matter. Whatever it was, it is my first memory of writing a story. Since then, writing has been an important part of my life, and his athletic achievement is what sparked my imagination.
I remember the 91 World Series much better. I was awake when Jack Morris went 10 innings, and I remember making fun of John Smoltz for getting taken out of the game. That game would never have occurred, though, had Kirby not hung in the air in front of the plexiglass wall and pulled in a sure double, and then belted a home run that elicited one of the best home run calls in the history of baseball: "We'll see you tomorrow night."
I'd love to say that the real Kirby was the one who was playing out on that field, not the one who suffered through allegations that eventually led him to move to Arizona to escape the scrutiny. I'd love to be able to say that I knew him, but I didn't, even though I read his (auto)biography from cover-to-cover in one sitting. I'd love to have some nice eulogy for a man who was flawed, who was cocky, who pulled himself out of the South Side of Chicago with determination and a smile. But the truth is, we can never know people like Kirby, athletes who astound us with their physical gifts and wow us with their competetiveness, athletes who are competing for us. We can never know them, never really understand who they are or what they are like. When the game is over and we walk out of the stadium with the tornadic winds pushing us through the Metrodome doors we can only know what we saw: the catch, the hit, the throw, the smile.