My tribute to a great player

The World Series starts today, and it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because, after all of the Spring training drills, regular season games, and postseason drama, now we get to see which team can say they’re the best. And it’s bad because, after it’s over, the game will go away until spring time. Just take the bitter with the sweet, I suppose.

The best World Series I’ve ever seen–before 2011–happened 20 years ago. The Twins beat the Braves in seven games, but every game seemed to go down to the wire. I think that any truly great World Series has to go seven games. This shows that the teams were evenly matched, and needed one final, winner-take-all contest to settle things once and for all.

But some Game sevens don’t live up to their promise. In 1985, the Royals and the Cardinals went to a Game seven, but it was nearly over before it started. The next year, in 1986, Game seven was a bit closer, but it wasn’t quite pressure-packed, either.

1991 was as close as a series could be. The two teams played 9 scoreless innings in Game seven, and the Twins pushed across a run in the tenth for the win. But it only happened like that because of the Game six heroics of the late Kirby Puckett. His home run in the bottom of the eleventh tied the series, and set the stage for the dramatic finish in Game seven.

Puckett was born in the raised in housing projects not very far from the school I taught at in Chicago. He was the focal point of the Twins teams that won two world Series titles, but he was beaned in the face at the end of the 1995 season and never played again.

Some people speculated that the 12 seasons he played weren’t enough longevity to merit Hall of Fame selection. But he was elected on the first ballot he was eligible, with 82% of the voters believing he had done enough to deserve the honor.

When Kirby Puckett died in 2006, at a very young age, I was saddened by the news. At the time, I was working on a content-creation program for a textbook publisher. Factual passages were always needed, so I sat down and began to write about baseball and the World Series and the heroics of Kirby Puckett in 1991.

The students who would  one day come across that passage might have known little about baseball, and even less about Kirby Puckett. But I made sure that, even if they couldn’t tell a ball from a strike, or a ground ball from a pop fly, they would know that Kirby Puckett was the hero for the winning team on the biggest sporting stage that America has to offer. It was a small tribute to his achievements–to be sure–but one that I felt very proud about being able to make.

Here’s hoping this World Series will live up to what baseball has given us since the final day of the regular season.

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