It's one thing to see your team win the World Series. It's another thing to see your team win the World Series when you're eleven years old and baseball is your whole life. Such was my experience. During the summer of '87, me and the neighborhood kids would spend every day playing baseball in some form or another and then race home to watch the Twins game. If we were lucky we could beg one of our dads to take us down to the Dome to catch the game live. Few things made as much of an imprint on my memory as hearing Bob Casey bellow out "The centerfielder...number thirty-four...Kirbeeeeeeeeeee Puckett!!!"
And then they won the division, and the pennant, and then pushed the Cardinals to a game 7 in the World Series. If I had any money back then I would have bet it all on the Twins. I had never been so sure of anything in my life. Everything was playing out exactly like it was supposed to. And of course, they won 4-2 and the summer of '87 became etched in my memory as the best summer of my life.
And as if that wasn't enough, it all happened again four years later, only better. This time it was the Braves who thought they could sour my youth. The Twins won the first two games at home and then got swept in Atlanta as the Braves came back to Minneapolis for game 6 looking to wrap up the series. The game was tied 3-3 after nine innings. Nobody scored in the tenth. The Braves failed to score again in the top of the eleventh and Kirby Puckett led off the bottom of the eleventh as Charlie Leibrandt took the mound for Atlanta.
What happened next is unquestionably the greatest moment in Minnesota sports history. I can still hear Jack Buck's famous call, "Deep to left-center...for Mitchell...and we'll see you tomorrow night!" as Kirby put a 2-1 changeup from Leibrandt into the left field seats to seal his place in history and win game 6 sending the series to a seventh game where Jack Morris pitched a 10-inning shutout (yes, I said a 10-inning shutout) to win the Series.
People talk about a lot of different things when bringing up great childhood memories but I doubt they still get goosebumps when they think about them 15 years later. Your first bike, your first car, your first kiss, your prom? I had Kirby. Top that.
The wrong perspective: I heard Bert Blyleven a few minutes ago say that Kirby is now "sitting at the right hand of the good Lord." I'm not surprised. I knew everybody was going to become a theologian today. But let's get something straight--the Bible knows nothing of the doctrine of justification by baseball alone (Sola Basebalia). A comment on another blog that I frequent said that Bob Casey was now welcoming Kirby into heaven. Bob Casey is not the one who welcomes anybody into heaven and nothing Kirby did on the field is going to earn him a spot on the "heavenly all-star team." As J.I. Packer says, "Wisdom will not go with comforting illusions, false sentiment, or the use of rose-colored glasses." But I will give honor where honor is due and recognize the huge part that Kirby played in my life. There will never be another Kirby.