I'll be up front with you, I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world. Although I was born the same year that Minnesota got its professional baseball and football franchises, and was also the year that my alma mater University of Minnesota's Football program earned its last invitation to the Rose Bowl, (they won), the real sports enthusiasts in my family were my Dad and second to oldest brother.
Ever since the Vikings lost to the Chiefs in their first Super Bowl appearance I have tried not to let professional athletes control my emotional well being. I say that and then comes the 1998 Vikings and their 15-1 regular season record and I get carried away and announce to an entire plane of strangers en route to New Orleans that the Vikings were going to avenge their 0-4 Super Bowl record only to lose the next day to Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. So with that track record in mind I have tried my damned best not to give in to irrational exuberance, at least when it comes to the Minnesota Vikings. Then we finally get a good head Coach in Zimmer and I start talking smack about the upcoming Viking season only to have Teddy Bridgewater go down with a season ending knee injury in a no contact drill. At least they saved me a whole season of delusional hope.
However when it comes to irrational exuberance I do make an exception for one sports figure, Kirby Puckett. Puckett was to baseball what Sea Biscuit was to horse racing: an underdog with the heart of a lion and the attitude of a champion. In late August of 1987 I went on a motorcycle tour of breweries in Wisconsin with my friend Eric Strand from Ada, MN. We were headed for Milwaukee to see 2 games of outdoor baseball with our surprisingly competitive Minnesota Twins.
After catching the first 2 games of the Twins vs. Brewers series (the Twins lost Friday night but won Saturday's game on the back of Puckett's 4 for 5, 2 Home Run performance), more beer drinking than I thought was humanly possible and an incredible meal at Three Brothers Serbo-Croation restaurant on Saturday night complete with oil sized cans of Bip beer, we were finally headed back home to Minneapolis. I was nursing a humongous hangover when we rode by County Stadium. For reasons known only to God, Eric unexpectedly waived me to take the next exit for what I thought was going to be a fuel stop. When we reach the end of the exit ramp Eric announced he wanted to see if we could scalp a couple of tickets for the afternoon game. Before I could get out my protest Eric roars off to the front of the stadium where scalpers gather. Spotting 2 16-17 year old teens with what looked like hangovers rivaling mine and sporting brand new white Monkees concert tees from the previous nights concert we scalped their Daddy's 5th row box seats right behind the plate. The rest as they say was history. I was a witness to baseball history as Puckett tied the American League record hitting safely in 10 of 11 at bats in consecutive games with 4 of those hits home runs.
But as good as Puckett's performance was on Saturday, what followed next was the greatest athletic performance I have witnessed before or since. Kirby Pucket batted 6 for 6 including two home runs, two doubles and 2 two-out RBIs on Sunday.
As if his offensive fireworks were not enough,in the sixth inning of Sunday's game, with the Twins leading 5-3, the Brewers loaded the bases and Robin Yount was the next batter up. Yount drills a high line drive to center, well over Puckett's head for what looks like a sure homer. Puckett races back to the wall and at the last moment leaped so high, extending his arm until his glove was actually over the center field wall and snagged the ball robbing Yount of a grand slam and killing the Brewers' rally. See the catch in the video above.
I still get choked up 29 years later as I write this, not only for his athletic accomplishments, of which there were many, not only because of the loyalty he showed to Minnesota and its fans but also for his indomitable spirit and the joy with which he approached not only the game, but life. Thank you Kirby, you will always be loved and remembered not only as a talented athlete but as a truly good person.
Sunday, August 30, 1987
, County Stadium
Attendance: 22,417, Time of Game: 3:37
4th, 8 GB
|Al Newman DH-SS||5||1||2||1||1||0||6||.226||.301||.316||.616||0.096||1.09||0.172||-0.075||0.9||0||0||CS|
|Greg Gagne SS-RF||6||2||2||0||0||1||6||.272||.306||.431||.737||0.018||1.31||0.150||-0.132||-0.5||0||0|
|Kirby Puckett CF||6||4||6||4||0||0||6||.328||.365||.523||.888||0.562||1.30||0.562||0.000||5.7||5||0||2·HR,2·2B|
|Gary Gaetti 3B||5||2||2||0||1||1||6||.260||.307||.505||.812||0.124||1.29||0.206||-0.081||0.7||1||1||2B,SB,IW|
|Tom Brunansky LF||3||0||0||0||2||1||5||.262||.351||.492||.843||-0.114||1.92||0.083||-0.197||-0.5||2||1||IW|
|Kent Hrbek 1B||3||0||0||1||1||1||5||.283||.386||.556||.942||-0.172||2.47||0.031||-0.203||-2.1||6||0||SF,GDP,IW|
|Mark Davidson RF||3||1||1||1||0||1||3||.270||.336||.344||.680||0.043||1.48||0.128||-0.085||-0.1||1||0||SB|
|Randy Bush PH-RF||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.241||.327||.388||.715||-0.036||1.34||0.000||-0.036||-0.5||0||0|
|Gene Larkin PH||1||0||1||2||0||0||1||.275||.353||.407||.759||0.324||4.04||0.324||0.000||1.6|
|Jeff Reardon P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0.000||0.00||0.000||0.000||0.0||1||0|
|Steve Lombardozzi 2B||4||0||1||0||0||2||5||.240||.303||.352||.655||-0.040||0.99||0.044||-0.084||-0.2||2||3||2B,HBP|
|Tim Laudner C||3||0||0||0||2||1||5||.191||.259||.411||.670||-0.014||1.00||0.045||-0.058||-0.0||9||0|
|Frank Viola P||0||0|
|Juan Berenguer P||0||0|
|Keith Atherton P||0||1|
|Paul Molitor DH||4||1||2||0||1||0||5||.361||.440||.577||1.017||0.131||1.61||0.189||-0.058||0.7||SB|
|Robin Yount CF||3||0||0||1||1||2||5||.313||.382||.475||.858||0.052||1.96||0.163||-0.112||0.2||5||0||SF|
|Glenn Braggs RF||4||0||3||1||0||1||4||.258||.330||.425||.755||0.156||1.49||0.210||-0.054||0.8||2||0||SB|
|Rick Manning RF||1||0||0||0||0||1||1||.267||.343||.367||.710||-0.057||1.91||0.000||-0.057||-0.3||1||0|
|Rob Deer LF||4||0||0||0||1||4||5||.246||.369||.486||.855||-0.108||1.21||0.030||-0.137||-1.0||2||0|
|Greg Brock 1B||5||1||2||0||0||0||5||.294||.361||.438||.799||0.017||1.05||0.085||-0.068||-0.0||6||0|
|Dale Sveum SS||4||1||1||0||1||0||5||.243||.298||.440||.738||0.109||1.22||0.187||-0.078||0.9||2||2||2B|
|Bill Schroeder C||3||1||1||3||1||1||4||.338||.385||.545||.930||0.091||1.62||0.186||-0.095||0.7||7||2||HR|
|Ernie Riles 3B||4||1||2||0||0||0||4||.265||.324||.351||.675||-0.064||1.37||0.073||-0.138||-0.8||2||0|
|Juan Castillo 2B||2||1||0||0||1||0||4||.223||.296||.325||.620||-0.034||1.52||0.058||-0.092||-0.4||0||3||SH|
|Juan Nieves P||0||0|
|Chuck Crim P||0||1|
|Dan Plesac P||0||0|
|Minnesota Twins||Milwaukee Brewers|
|1||Al Newman||DH||1||Paul Molitor||DH|
|2||Greg Gagne||SS||2||Robin Yount||CF|
|3||Kirby Puckett||CF||3||Glenn Braggs||RF|
|4||Gary Gaetti||3B||4||Rob Deer||LF|
|5||Tom Brunansky||LF||5||Greg Brock||1B|
|6||Kent Hrbek||1B||6||Dale Sveum||SS|
|7||Mark Davidson||RF||7||Bill Schroeder||C|
|8||Steve Lombardozzi||2B||8||Ernie Riles||3B|
|9||Tim Laudner||C||9||Juan Castillo||2B|
|Frank Viola P||Juan Nieves P|