March 8th, 2006
I grew up in Minneapolis. My mom is a big baseball fan and so I grew up a fan of the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers (my mother’s hometown team). Sometime in the early summer of 1984, at which time I would have been 13 years old, my family was watching the Twins game on TV (I remember it was a road game with the Twins wearing their horrible baby blue road unis) and a guy with a funny name took center field for the Twins. I misheard the TV announcer and thought his name was “Herbie Plunkett,” probably because I had never heard either of his names. When giving me a hard time about misunderstanding something, my folks still bring up that name.
Anyway, that funny-named guy became the face of the franchise, a local hero, and my favorite position player. Baseball was my favorite sport growing up, before the days of the juiced ball, juiced players, and shoebox-sized strike zone. A time when hitting 30 homers was a lot and baseball games were 3-2 and not 8-6.Through the 80s, baseball was my sport. And if you followed baseball at all in Minnesota through the 80s, you followed Kirby.
Kirby seemed to always be in competition with Wade Boggs for the batting title. Boggs usually won, but I always maintained Kirby was the far superior hitter. He hit for more power, more RBIs, and was infinitely more clutch than Boggs, who always seemed to me to hit 2-out, bases-empty singles when the game was already decided. (I may have been somewhat biased on that, but I bet if you asked the closers of the era who they were more afraid of in the 9th inning with a one-run lead and a runner on first, Puckett would be virtually unanimous over Boggs.) And Kriby was a multiple gold-glove winner in center field, whereas Boggs took many years to work up to “no longer a liability in the field.” But I digress.
The Kirby even I most distinctly remember the 1991 world series. I had just moved to Atlanta to start graduate school, and since I was going to be in Atlanta for the next few years, I decided to try to attempt to root for the Braves, the team of my new city. I just couldn’t do it. The first time I saw Kirby come to bat in that series, I simply could not root against him. It was just impossible to do. It was impossible not to like Kirby, to admire Kirby’s talent, and to root for Kirby. I know there were some controversies involving Puckett in his post-baseball life and I just found those incidents tragic.
I’m not one to get particularly sentimental about the passing of sports figures, but Kirby was different. It was sad to see his career end prematurely, and I’m sad he left us early.