He struggled for the last part of his life, and seemed to have lost his way somewhat, but once Kirby Puckett was one of the brightest stars in baseball.
I have been an Atlanta Braves fan since I was a kid, when the Braves were not just a bad baseball team, they were a force of nature. Like a hurricane or an earthquake. IN A BAD WAY.
There were days when the fans at Fulton County Stadium didn’t stretch around the ends of the dugouts, but we went anyway. Baseball is about fathers and sons, and my dad wanted me to go see baseball games, so he took me, and patiently explained that sometimes it’s not about winning, it’s about playing with grace.
I remember lying upside down (but buckled in!) in the backseat of my dad’s old Chrysler, while the Braves played (horribly) on the radio, and the perfumed smells of Georgia summer nights came in through the open windows.
Then came that ’91 season. WOW! The BRAVES COULD WIN BASEBALL GAMES! It was inconceivable. It was unthinkable. It was magic. When Barry Bonds missed the cutoff man and Sid Bream made it around third base to slid into home to win the NLCS, I cried like a little girl. I couldn’t help it. I had waited my whole life for the Braves to go to the World Series. Of course I called my dad, and he was actually JUMPING AROUND THE LIVING ROOM. I could hear the china rattling in the cabinet.
Then, yeah, we got the World Series, and Kirby hit that homer, and it all came crashing down. I wanted to hate Kirby Puckett. I mean, he had taken it all away from us.
Then I saw him on Letterman or some show after the Series, and I just happened to be watching it with my dad. Puckett was soft-spoken, gracious, talked about just wanting to play well and to honor the game. He talked about what a tough team the Braves had been, and how much he had enjoyed playing them. When Letterman went to a commercial, my dad said “Son, that’s a good man. It’s ok to lose to a guy with that much heart.”
So, I learned to love Kirby Puckett, and respect him for his soul and his excellence on the field. Because baseball is about fathers and sons, and playing with grace.
God rest Kirby Puckett. We need more like him.