Tonight death looms heavy over the Zisk home offices in the Kensington section of Brooklyn. First, at 9:55 tonight Edgar, one of my favorite characters on 24, was killed off in a surprise ending. (They released the nerve gas at CTU, no way!) As I switched channels to avoid the sensational and hard-hitting Fox 5 news ("Find out more about Edgar's death!" anchorwoman Rosanna Scotto screamed at me) and got to ESPN, they broke into programming to announce that Kirby Puckett had died at the too young of an age at 45 from the complications of the stroke he had on Sunday.
Puckett was certainly not an angel off the field, with sexual harassment charges floating around him the past four years. (Right now WFAN's Steve Somers seems almost gleeful talking about Puckett's problems with ex-Met and Twins broadcaster Ted Robinson. I hope he doesn't harp on it for hours.) But it's truly a shame that a man whose great career ended too early due to glaucoma ended up leaving us too soon because (most reports have said since yesterday) he let his body go after he left Minnesota in disgrace from the harassment charges (which he was acquitted of, by the way).
(Now Somers is backtracking a bit from his statement, as the first caller is reaming him. Good for that guy from Jersey.)
Kirby Puckett's career from 1984 to 1996 spanned almost the exact same time frame as the two phases of my baseball love. When he broke in that Orwellian year, I totally loved the game, a love which lasted into my first college days in 1987 when Puckett helped the Twins win their first World Series. As college went on I paid less and less attention to baseball (and more to booze, babes and radio shifts). Then I graduated in 1991, and after a miserable stint back at home, I moved back to Ithaca with no solid plan for my post-collegiate life. (Well, I wanted to be in radio, that was my plan. Stupid, stupid, stupid.)
In October 1991 I still had no job, so I basically drank on cash advances from my credit card. One fateful night I went to a bar in downtown Ithaca called the Plums with a couple of people still going to IC to likely drink some sort of Canadian beer. On that night, Kirby Puckett reignited my passion for the game during that classic Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Puckett's amazing catch of Ron Gant's fly ball and his home run later to win the game were stunning to watch. I'm not sure if any baseball player has single-handedly won such a crucial game all by themselves. I mean, he didn't really win it by himself, but it sure seemed like it that night. And listening to the replay right now of Vin Scully's call of that game, I got the same chills I did that cold fall night in Ithaca.
Thanks Kirby--Zisk might not have been a part of my life without you.
UPDATE: The great Twins blog BatGirl has one of the most touching pieces of writing you'll read about Kirby, that I am sure: