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Kirby Puckett - Discovered By The Twins

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After his first year at Bradley, however, Puckett's father died, and he moved back to Chicago to be closer to his mother. He attended Triton Community College, where he continued to play baseball. By this time, he could bench press 300 pounds and was hitting .472, with forty-two stolen bases. A Minnesota Twins scout picked him out, and the Twins drafted him in the first round in January 1982. He started his career on the Twins' minor league team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League, where he led the league in seven categories. The following season he was sent to Visalia, California, and chosen best major league prospect. By the spring of 1984, Puckett was moved up to the majors. He made his debut with the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 1984, when he had four hits in five times at bat. As good as his batting was, however, Puckett could not seem to hit home runs, prompting Reggie Jackson to refer to him as "a Punch and Judy hitter."

Chronology

1961 Born March 14 in Chicago, Illinois
1982 Drafted in first round by Minnesota Twins; is sent to minor league in Elizabethton, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League
1983 Promoted to Class A team Visalia Oaks in Visalia, California
1984 Joins Minnesota Twins major league team; makes debut on May 8, with four hits in five times at bat
1986 Undergoes intensive training with batting coach to improve his ability to hit home runs; finishes season sixth in American League's Most Valuable Player voting and second in runs scored; marries Tonya Hudson—they will have a daughter, Catherine, and a son, Kirby Jr.
1987 Begins hosting television show The Kirby Puckett Report
1989 Becomes the highest-paid player in baseball for a brief time
1991 In sixth game of the World Series, as Twins face the Atlanta Braves, Puckett hits an eleventh-inning home run that wins the game for Minnesota and forces a seventh game, which they also win
1992 On December 4, signs a five-year, $30 million contract with Minnesota Twins
1995 Is hit in the face on September 28 by a fastball, which shatters his jaw and ends his playing season
1996 On March 28, wakes up unable to see out of his right eye; is diagnosed with glaucoma and undergoes four surgeries in four months without improvement of his vision
1996 On July 12, announces his retirement from baseball
1997 Twins retire Puckett's jersey number 34; Puckett continues to serve with Twins as executive vice president
2001 Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
2002 Wife, Tonya, files for divorce in February and seeks sole custody of their children
2002 In September, is charged with assaulting a woman in a restaurant restroom; claims innocence

During spring training in 1986, new Twins manager Tom Kelly and batting coach Tony Oliva helped Puckett overcome his fear of being hit by the ball and trust his strength and speed at the plate. By the start of the season he had found his powerful, accurate swing and hit thirty-one home runs, with ninety-six runs batted in (RBI), in the 1986 season as a lead-off hitter. The same season, he won his first Gold Glove award as a centerfielder.

In 1987, Puckett batted .332, with twenty-eight home runs and ninety-nine RBIs. The Twins won the World Series, and Puckett was third in Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting. He finished third again in 1988, his best season, after batting .356, with twenty-four home runs and a total of 234 hits. In 1991, Puckett was named MVP of the Twins' Championship victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. In game six of the World Series, Puckett proved himself a superstar when he had three RBIs in the first inning, made astounding plays in the third, fifth, and eighth innings, and hit a game-winning home run in the eleventh inning. This forced a seventh World Series game, which the Twins also won, taking the World Series championship for the second time in five years.

Puckett passed up a chance to earn more money elsewhere in 1992 and decided to stay with the Minnesota Twins for the rest of his career. His loyalty and his humility—coupled with his outstanding playing ability, short stature, and friendly demeanor—made him a favorite of Minnesota fans. He began shaving his head before the baseball season, which made him look even more like a storybook character, and he always drove to ball games in an old pickup truck. In 1995 he turned down his chance to become a free agent and settled in for a long career in Minneapolis. He had married Tonya Hudson in 1986, and they had a young daughter. He told Esquire, "I'm living out my dream every day." Then, in September of 1995, everything began to change.

Kirby Puckett - Chronology [next] [back] Kirby Puckett - Humble Beginnings

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