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As a ballplayer, Kirby Puckett delighted even his opponents.
Hall-of-Fame catcher Carlton Fisk said this week that Puckett brought such joy to the game that he elevated the play of everyone around him.
According to his teammates, Puckett's energy and enthusiasm were often contagious. Some of the members of the Twins, for whom Puckett played his entire, twelve year career, used to wear t-shirts that read "I wanna be like Puck."
Though his career was cut short by glaucoma in 1996, when he was thirty six, Kirby Puckett accomplished plenty as a ballplayer. His Twins won two World Championships, and Puckett made the sixth game of the '91 Series his personal showcase, winning it with an eleventh inning homerun after saving it with a spectacular catch. He was a ten-time all-star and won six gold gloves for his excellence as a centerfielder.
Puckett's achievement was recognized when he was elected to the hall of fame in his first year of eligibility, and inducted in 2001.
At the ceremony that summer, Kirby Puckett told the crowd, "I played the game and tried to live my life in a way that would make the people I love and care about proud."
During the years that followed that celebration, Kirby Puckett was far less successful at achieving that goal than he had been on the field. According to former teammate Kent Hrbek, Puckett never seemed to entirely recover from being forced from the game. Beyond that, his extra-marital affairs became public. He stopped working for the Twins. He was charged with sexual assault, and although he was eventually cleared, his capacity to generate joy gave way to self destructive behavior. According to ESPN writer Jim Caple, who covered the Twins for portions of Puckett's career, the former ballplayer's prodigious weight gain, heavy drinking, and increasing bitterness about the absence of the spotlight he'd taken for granted had worried his friends for some time.
Kirby Puckett's career with the Twins gave his public a feel-good story about an effervescent man who made the most of his physical gifts. The years leading up to his death at 45 demonstrated that building a life outside the game in the diminished days when the cheering has stopped can be an even greater challenge than hitting homeruns, rallying the boys on the bench, and delighting the fans.
This program aired on March 9, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.
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