Monday, March 06, 2006

Rest In Peace

My favorite athlete growing up was Kirby Puckett. How could you not like the guy or what those Twins teams did back in the mid-late 80’s and early 90’s? He looked nothing like a professional athlete and that imperfection along with that infectious smile and penchant for the dramatic endeared him to me. I easily devoted a single photo album to display all of his baseball cards. To this day I still get Kirby Puckett cards or photos or posters from relatives because it’s such an easy go-to gift that I’ll always appreciate. I first noticed the chubby outfielder during the ’85 season and got to enjoy him before my own eyes when he came down to the Lone Star State for the All-Star Game the following year. The World Series win in 1987 was so improbable (20 games below .500 in ’86) that the Twins instantly became my adopted franchise. That Minnesota team had the worst record to ever win it all and would not have done so if not for the American League getting the four home games in the World Series that year. The one player who hit over .275 in that lineup was Puckett (.332). Then in 1991 came another playoff run that was capped off by the greatest World Series I have ever witnessed between two teams who both went from worst-to-first to get to the Classic. I’m thinking that’ll never happen again. It was the first time a sporting event ever made me so nervous. I couldn’t sit down during any game of the series. All I could do was pace and pray. Puckett and Co. didn’t need my prayers because, once again, they had four games at the Homer Dome. Kirby sealed his legendary status (as well as the World Series MVP) with his incredible leaping catch against the wall and later walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 6. I so clearly remember simply collapsing on the floor as my idol rounded the bases, arms raised, with thousands of frantically waving homer hankies in the background. It was just too unbelievable, too magical to actually be happening. It was a moment that reminds you why you love sports and why it’s so easy to fall in love with a professional athlete. Kirby was perfect. He always came through when needed and always did it with a smile. He was everything I wished I could be. The Twins didn’t make it to another postseason, but I continued to follow his phenomenal career the only way you could back then, through the box scores in the paper. The beginning of the sad end came in 1995 when Dennis Martinez broke Kirby’s jaw with a pitch. The following season Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma and that was it for a truly beloved baseball superstar. In 2001 Kirby Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame and I was lucky enough to have a father who knew how much Puckett meant to me. So my dad took me and two of my brothers to Cooperstown so I could see my hero honored one last time. It was an absolutely perfect weekend and I’ll never forget sitting on that hill watching my man make his speech. Better than that was when I was fortuitously looking at all of the plaques in the museum when Kirby was making a visit to see where his plaque would be placed. Half of the hallway was roped off for Kirby and family and I just sat there reveling in the fact I was yards away from a guy who gave me so much joy growing up. I was absolutely ecstatic and couldn’t figure out why Kirby didn’t feel the same. He looked emotionless. On the other hand, his wife was incredible. She was the one smiling and thanking fans the entire time. She was the one who made Kirby go sign autographs for all of the kids and that one big kid with the old school Twin Cities hat on. Thanks Tonya. I’ll never forget when Kirby handed me back my Hall of Fame admission ticket with his signature. The moment was once again too unbelievable and too magical for me to believe it was actually happening. Yet, I’m staring at the proof as I type this. It was a weekend I’ll never forget thanks to the Pucketts and my dad. A couple of years later I heard about the Sports Illustrated story that painted my idol as an abusive, cheating husband with loads of problems I just couldn’t believe. It was one of those things you’re so uncomfortable while reading, but you know you have to. I guess as we grow up we have to learn to accept things that as kids we would never care about or believe. I guess it’s just another sacrifice we make as we age. Despite the fact I have cards everywhere and a plaque and a poster in plain view I haven’t thought about Kirby Puckett in a long time until my brother told me about his situation Sunday morning as I saw the blurb myself on ESPNews. It was sad and unfair that his baseball career was taken away from him at the age of 35. It's extremely sad for me to hear that the life of my imperfect idol was taken away too early as well. When he stepped away from the game he loved he said "Kirby Puckett's going to be all right. Don't worry about me. I'll show up, and I'll have a smile on my face. The only thing I won't have is this uniform on. But you guys can have the memories of what I did when I did have it on." Thanks for every single memory Kirby.


It Figures

The Rockets are coming off a typical weekend. One great performance that tells you a run is still possible, one subpar performance against the worst team in the league that tells you this is who the Rockets are, and of course, another injury flare-up for the team’s most valuable player. Such is life for Houston in this increasingly forgettable season.

Quick Hitters and Random Thoughts

--For the most part Jon Stewart killed at The Oscars. Ben Stiller’s green screen bit was hilarious. Will Farrell and Steve Carell will always be money. The musical performances were a little weird (Crash’s song in particular) and made for fast-forwarding through. The lovely Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener, which seemed to me to be a lead role, but whatever. How about as she was walking up the stage and the announcer mentions her other prominent roles in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. That’s supposed to impress us?! George Clooney was great in Syriana although I’ll never understand what the hell was going on in that movie. Something about oil, I think. I liked Crash, but didn’t think of it as a Best Picture-type and though I haven’t seen them I’m sure I’ll like the other contenders better. Nice job by ABC of shooing away the producers of Crash when it won the final freakin’ award of the night. If there’s one winner that shouldn’t get cut off when speaking it should be the Best Picture winner.

--More unlikely Oscar attendee: Don Nelson or Gary Busey? Inexplicably both were there.

--How funny was last week's Office with Dwight Mussolini.

--If you check out one live-action Simpsons introduction make it this one.

--Reno 911!: Miami sounds like it’ll be an instant classic once it opens later this year. The Rock, Pee-Wee Herman, and Danny DeVito among others have reportedly signed on for bit parts.

--It’s not the Chronic (what?) ‘cles of Narnia, but it is another SNL Digital Short. Not as funny, but Natalie Portman is in it and that’s not a bad thing

--Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightly?! Nice pull Darko.

That's just ridiculous.

--Your dumbass principal of the week comes to us from Ohio. There Robert Holloway made a bet on a volleyball game with three 14-year-old boys. He lost the bet and so kissed each of the boy’s feet. Yeah, he’s no longer employed at that school.

--Since they’re now appearing in the U.K. there’s no doubt they’ll be invading the U.S. soon. What I’m talking about are vending machines for sex toys that are appearing in British bars. Step right up, toss some coins in, and choose from mini-vibrators, bottles of “love liquid”, silicone ticklers and much more.

--I know there aren’t many who’ll agree, but I’m looking forward to the World Baseball Classic. I wouldn’t watch a run of the mill spring training game, but what’s not to like when Venezuela takes on the Dominican? Not to mention the fact that that Rocket guy is participating. Nice job by The Boss posting a sign at New York’s spring training site explaining he and the club have nothing to do with the absences of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon. The sign explains: "We are sorry that certain players will not be present for portions of spring training. These players have elected to participate in the World Baseball Classic. The World Baseball Classic is an event sanctioned by the commissioner of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. The New York Yankess (spelled wrong on sign) did not vote to support this event. Any comments you have regarding the World Baseball Classic should be directed to the commissioner of Major League Baseball or the Major League Baseball Players Association." Finally a reason to hate the Yankees.

--I don’t know whether watching that Southern Illinois cheerleader cheer from her stretcher was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen or one of the most disturbing.

--I have never seen anyone take a 12 round beat down like Jeff Lacy did at the hands of 33-year-old and the longest reigning champ in the world Joe Calzaghe. That was just brutal. By the way, next week I’ll be in Atlantic City for the Rahman/Toney fight. Can’t wait for that. The best part is it’s not even a PPV event.

Questions, comments or if it's time to get ill...

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