Twins honor, celebrate Puckett's life
Fans, former teammates pay tribute to Minnesota legend
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was close to 5:30 p.m. CT, nearly 30 minutes before the Metrodome gates opened for the Kirby Puckett Tribute, when one of the Twins buses turned the corner onto Chicago Avenue.Immediately, thousands of people came into view. They had lined up outside of the place that many have called "The House that Puck Built." Bundled up in coats and hats, fans huddled together amid the lingering snow flurries to have the chance to honor the player. "I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Torii Hunter, with his jaw dropped as he surveyed the scene. It was a sight that left the bus full of Twins legends and other baseball greats speechless. The outpouring of love for the man who all had spent the day both mourning and celebrating was truly moving. "That's something, man, that's really something," Hunter said with a smile on his face. While many of Puckett's friends and former teammates had heard of the tributes being left to the fallen star back in Minnesota, their arrival at the Metrodome was the first glimpse that any had seen into just how much of an impact his death had on the community. Sunday was a day full of support and remembrance for perhaps the most beloved Minnesota Twins player of all time. The signs and the flowers that decorated the fences in front of the Twins front offices was just a small symbol of the outpouring that would be on display inside the dome during the ceremony. The turnout of 15,000 fans was impressive, especially considering the threat of a snowstorm that was forecasted to drop nearly a foot of snow on the Twin Cities. It was the type of reception that his friends said the humble Puckett would never have expected. "Kirby Puckett would have been embarrassed by all of these people coming here just for him," St. Paul native and fellow Hall of Famer Dave Winfield said. "But on behalf of his beautiful family and friends, I'd like to extend our thanks for all of you that came out tonight to pay homage and respect to Kirby Puckett." For fans of the player, no sign of gratitude could have been too great. "We all think a lot of him," said Marge Wysninger, 62, of Minneapolis. "Kirby was loved by everybody." Emotions ran high for all, from the players who knew him personally to the fans. Video of Puckett hamming it up for the camera played as fans poured into the Metrodome, and the sound of a pin dropping could have been heard. When the procession of players began to file in, the entire crowd stood to give them a round of applause. Ovations greeted each of the speakers on the night, but the biggest ovation was saved for Puckett's two surviving children, daughter Catherine and son Kirby Jr. The theme of the day seemed to be a theme of Puckett's own life: Live every day to the fullest. Many of Puckett's friends shared stories of their own and explained how he impacted each and every one of them. The loss of Puckett is something that impacted all of them, especially since his time on Earth was so short. "There must be a [heck] of a baseball game going on upstairs," former teammate Kent Hrbek said. "And God must have needed a No. 3 hitter, because he took Puck way too soon." "I'm grateful to have known him, grateful to have watched him play and grateful to all of his contributions," Cubs president and former Twins general manager Andy McPhail said while choking back tears. "He always busted his tail off and had a great thing to say to everybody in the clubhouse," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I can guarantee you all this, as long as I'm running this baseball team, we will play the game with respect, run the ball out and give you a show, because that is what Kirby would want us to do." All day long stories were shared that helped to express just how much Puckett meant to all of the people close to him, but it wasn't just those that he knew that Puckett impacted. "He gave me a childhood of memories," said Willis Geffert, 27, who came all the way from Maryland for the event. "It's tough to say just how much he meant to all of us." Twins radio broadcaster John Gordon seemed to sum up the night best. "A remarkable tribute to a remarkable man," Gordon said. But before the public was invited to celebrate the life of the man known to so many as just "Puck," it was a gathering of close friends and family who said goodbye to him at the Wayzata Community Church on Sunday afternoon. The names of people in attendance for Puckett's funeral read like a who's who of baseball. Everyone from Chili Davis to Cal Ripken Jr. to Frank Thomas to Major League commissioner Bud Selig and more were there. "Wow, leave it up to Puck," said Mike Casey, the son of former Twins announcer Bob Casey, as he addressed the packed church. "How many guys can bring Cooperstown to Minnesota?" It wasn't just the baseball world that gathered to honor Puckett. Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett also was present for the ceremony. Tears were shed by many, but there also was a bit of laughter as well. That only seemed fitting for the player whose smile shined more than anything else in baseball. Casey's single word to describe Puckett in his eulogy was this: "Special." And if there was just one word to portray the day's events to honor the man, it would be the same.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.