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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Inside the Lines: For the love of the game

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ever since the greatest Twin of all time passed away last week at age 45, it seems as though almost every resident of Minnesota has been transported back to October of 1991 at some point or another: that fateful Game 6 when the Legend of Kirby Puckett was solidified forever. As artificially constructed as some of our modern day “heroes” appear to be, Kirby’s World Series performance was truly the stuff of legends.

I hope that you have taken the time to read some of the pieces published in both the local and national media in the days following Puckett’s untimely passing. Both the quantity and quality of the Puckett tributes that have surfaced in the past week and a half has been nothing short of astounding. Almost everything that I have read (and I have read a lot) has been both tasteful and heartfelt, a difficult line to straddle when dealing with a public figure who was as beloved and maligned as Kirby was.

As merely a would-be sports columnist at a tiny student newspaper, I feel there is little I can add to the many fitting tributes that have been heaped upon our fallen star already. I cannot claim to have really met Kirby personally (outside of a couple autograph requests, which he naturally fulfilled) and I am too young to remember his outstanding play during the prime of his career.

As a diehard Twins fan and lifelong Minnesotan, however, I feel there is at least one area in which I am qualified to add to the conversation: just how much the attitudes and practices of this one man meant to our entire state.

In short, Kirby Puckett, more than any other player in the franchise’s 45-year history, exemplified the “Twins Way” of playing the game. Kirby played baseball the way it was meant to be played – 100 percent full-tilt, one 100 percent of the time. A product of the Chicago projects, he never took a single day in the major leagues for granted, even when he was earning millions of dollars each season. In a time when so many ethical questions cloud our beloved national pastime, Kirby Puckett will forever stand as a lasting reminder of all that is great about sports – not the money, fame or accolades, but rather the unbridled passion, joy and genuine love for the game.

Minnesota loved Kirby Puckett not just because he was the best player on the state’s only two championship teams. We didn’t love him only because he took Charlie Leibrant deep in Game 6, had a cannon for a throwing arm or smacked a franchise-record 2,304 hits in 12 big league seasons.

We loved him most because he did it all with that magical smile on his face and twinkle in his eye.

"No one loved being a baseball player more than Kirby,” said Orioles Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken about his longtime opponent. You didn’t have to know Puckett personally to realize Ripken was telling the truth.

On the baseball diamond, Kirby seemed invincible. He possessed the perfect combination of talent, work ethic and zeal for the game. Last week, we found out once and for all that, despite our fervent hopes to the contrary, this Minnesota legend was still just a man. And although the man might be gone forever, every Twins fan, young and old, can forever carry with them that swing, that hustle, that passion and that joy. Kirby Puckett was a one-in-a-million ballplayer, and our fair state was lucky enough to house his brilliance for a long time.

Only now do we realize just how much that really meant.

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