(KMSP) - This morning I woke to check the headlines on my Twitter feed and saw that today is "Pi Day". The celebration of that infinite number 3.14... I also had to give pause as I noticed that Twins great Kirby Puckett would have been 57 years old today. His incredible career, that provided us so much joy, came to a tragic end with an eye injury. What followed in court was even more disappointing. Then, his very sad passing after a stroke in 2006. But when I think of "Puck" I think of the wide eyed, happy go lucky kid from the projects of Chicago's South Side, who first came to the Twins in 1984.
There are many classic stories about how his career began. Like his first day being called up to the Majors. The Twins were playing the Angels in Anaheim. Kirby flew into Los Angeles and asked the cabbie to take him to the ballpark. The cabbie did as told, except the ballpark he took Kirby to was Dodger Stadium in L.A.! So "Puck" told the guy to "hit it" for Anaheim and he barely made it in time for the game. No worries.. he still got 4 hits in a 5-0 Twins win and he was on his way.
That first year he became a media darling. His youthful enthusiasm was contagious and everyone wanted to be around him. For years people have called me "Pass" but I must admit it was Kirby Puckett who first started that trend. Each day at the ballpark I was met with "Hey Pass' or "How ya doing Pass." I'm not a big collector, but it's why I began saving any magazine cover with Kirby on it. He seemed like a friend. I still have a couple.
I remember one time in the mid 80's on a charter bus from a hotel to an airport Kirby said to me, "Hey Pass, you're a hockey guy. Let me ask you something. Who's this "Gritzen" guy?" It took a couple seconds before I realized he meant "Gretzky!" I told him he's only the greatest scorer in NHL History! For years later if I wanted to get a laugh out of "Puck" all I had to do was look at him and say "Gritzen!"
Another good story involved Kirby, Dan Gladden and a few of their teammates who were joined by actor Tom Selleck one day for batting practice at the Metrodome. For Selleck it was a workout and a way to promote his upcoming movie "Mr. Baseball".. about a washed up Major Leaguer who wound up playing in Japan. We all did interviews with Selleck that day around the batting cage in his Twins uniform. (I had a picture of us but somehow I lost it!) But Kirby, Gladden and the boys had something extra up their sleeves. They assumed he'd be wearing batting gloves when he jumped into the cage to take his swings, so they put Super Glue on the handle of his bat, brought it to him and the joke would come when the gloves got stuck to the bat. Then, suddenly they noticed he wasn't going to wear batting gloves and Gladden swept in and avoided disaster taking the bat from Selleck at the very last second before he could grab the handle. A close call that still ended in many laughs!
Here's another one you've never heard, but it's why I always loved Kirby Puckett. That 1984 season, Kirby's rookie year, the Twins made a good run for the AL West Division title. They fell just short.. 3 games back. But during that time, in my Sportscaster days, I was sent to cover the Twins on the road. My cameraman would be by brother Matt, a stocky guy-still working at my old station-who Puckett had come to know as well.. calling him "Mattie" whenever he'd see him. Matt and I were rooming together at the Twins hotel in Kansas City. We went downstairs for dinner and a beer where we saw "Puck" doing the same. Eventually I decided it was time for bed so I headed for our room, but Matt stayed with "Puck" for a little more fun. As I laid there in bed I suddenly heard what could only be described as "2 Bulls in a China Shop" out in the hallway. I looked out the door and there was Matt and "Puck" taking turns picking each other up and slamming each other against the walls. A wrestling match that continued down the hallway! Why? Well someone across the hall from us had leftover Pizza in a box sitting outside their door on the floor. Matt and "Puck" were battling over who would get the leftover Pizza and laughing all the way! Kirby got the Pie and took it into our room to devour and we were all in tears of hysteria! A future millionaire and Hall of Famer wrestling over leftover pizza in a hotel hallway!
So you were probably wondering how I was going to tie "Pi Day" into Kirby Puckett. The easy way would be to suggest you add the number 1 to the middle of the back of his jersey and you'd get 314. But I saw a better example, first hand, Kirby Puckett loved his Pizza Pie!
After the World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 I was interviewing Kirby during the celebrations and each time he said to me "Love you Pass". I'll never forget it. Especially because the words came from a man who many consider the greatest Twin ever. "Love ya and miss ya Puck!"